The UK’s broadcasting regulatory body, Ofcom, has fined the Saudi-owned Al Arabiya news channel £120,000 for airing an interview with an imprisoned Bahraini opposition leader.
The regulator found that the channel, originating from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, had aired footage of Bahraini opposition leader, Hassan Mushaima, without consent, resulting in a “serious infringement of privacy”.
A programme broadcast on Al Arabiya News on 27 February 2016, presented an “unfair and misleading version of events,” and facts about his circumstances when being filmed were omitted, Ofcom said.
The penalty follows the regulator’s decision in April 2017 that Al Arabiya would face sanctions for broadcasting a recorded testimony that was extracted in detention under threat of torture.
In its programming, Al Arabiya never presented the fact that Mashaima maintains his innocence, nor that his torture is well-documented.
Mr Mashaima, a political opposition leader, is one of the “Bahrain 13”, a group of human rights defenders, activists, and Shia religious leaders who were arrested, tortured, and sentenced to arbitrary prison terms for their involvement with the 2011 Arab Spring protests.
Mr Mashaima, who was distressed by the program, complained to Ofcom, stating that the interview unfairly presented his case and constituted an unwarranted infringement of his privacy.
He told his son, Ali, by phone: “It is a wholly political act, to see the media intimidate a torture victim who cannot defend himself.”
In addition to falsely presenting testimony provided under duress as a consensual interview, Mr Mashaima asserted that Al Arabiya had failed to air any information that challenged the narrative put forth by the Bahraini government, including the 2011 findings of the BICI and the rulings of UN human rights bodies.
The network also failed to provide him with any opportunity to respond to the program and its allegations.
After investigating the complaint, Ofcom found that Al Arabiya had unfairly depicted Mashaima; failed to give him an opportunity to respond to allegations of wrongdoing; and violated his legitimate expectation of privacy.
Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) and the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) welcome Ofcom’s decision and urge Al Arabiya to immediately remove the defamatory content online and issue an immediate apology to Mashiama and his family.