Why didn’t CNN’s international arm air its own documentary on Bahrain’s Arab Spring repression?
The Bahraini minority regime spent $32 million dollars on bribes to stop CNN from airing the documentary on its international network where it can be viewed by people in Arab countries, including Bahrain. CNN’s total cost for the hour-long documentary titled “iRevolution” was $100,000. According to the deal, CNN chopped down the documentary into a 13 minutes segment and aired it only on its US networks, but not on the international network. CNN later “laid off” the award winning reporter Amber Lyon in order to please the Arab monarchy in Bahrain that paid CNN million of dollars. Don’t you love the “Freedom of the Press” in Western countries? Watch a short video: Dictators Sponsor CNN, Interview with Amber Lyon
The following is detail from The Guardian, UK:
A former CNN correspondent defies threats from her former employer to speak out about self-censorship at the network
October 30, 2012 (The Guardian) — In late March 2011, as the Arab Spring was spreading, CNN sent a four-person crew to Bahrain to produce a one-hour documentary on the use of internet technologies and social media by democracy activists in the region. Featuring on-air investigative correspondent Amber Lyon, the CNN team had a very eventful eight-day stay in that small, US-backed kingdom.
By the time the CNN crew arrived, many of the sources who had agreed to speak to them were either in hiding or had disappeared. Regime opponents whom they interviewed suffered recriminations, as did ordinary citizens who worked with them as fixers. Leading human rights activist Nabeel Rajab was charged with crimes shortly after speaking to the CNN team. A doctor who gave the crew a tour of his village and arranged meetings with government opponents, Saeed Ayyad, had his house burned to the ground shortly after. Their local fixer was fired ten days after working with them.
The CNN crew itself was violently detained by regime agents in front of Rajab’s house. As they described it after returning to the US, “20 heavily-armed men”, whose faces were “covered with black ski masks”, “jumped from military vehicles”, and then “pointed machine guns at” the journalists, forcing them to the ground. The regime’s security forces seized their cameras and deleted their photos and video footage, and then detained and interrogated them for the next six hours.
Lyon’s experience both shocked and emboldened her. The morning after her detention, newspapers in Bahrain prominently featured articles about the incident containing what she said were “outright fabrications” from the government. “It made clear just how willing the regime is to lie,” she told me in a phone interview last week.
But she also resolved to expose just how abusive and thuggish the regime had become in attempting to snuff out the burgeoning democracy movement, along with any negative coverage of the government.
“I realized there was a correlation between the amount of media attention activists receive and the regime’s ability to harm them, so I felt an obligation to show the world what our sources, who risked their lives to talk to us, were facing.”
CNN’s total cost for the documentary, ultimately titled “iRevolution: Online Warriors of the Arab Spring”, was in excess of $100,000, an unusually high amount for a one-hour program of this type. The portion Lyon and her team produced on Bahrain ended up as a 13-minute segment in the documentary. That segment, which as of now is available on YouTube, is a hard-hitting and unflinching piece of reporting that depicts the regime in a very negative light.
In the segment, Lyon interviewed activists as they explicitly described their torture at the hands of government forces, while family members recounted their relatives’ abrupt disappearances. She spoke with government officials justifying the imprisonment of activists. And the segment featured harrowing video footage of regime forces shooting unarmed demonstrators, along with the mass arrests of peaceful protesters. In sum, the early 2011 CNN segment on Bahrain presented one of the starkest reports to date of the brutal repression embraced by the US-backed regime.
On 19 June 2011 at 8pm, CNN’s domestic outlet in the US aired “iRevolution” for the first and only time. The program received prestigious journalism awards, including a 2012 Gold Medal from New York Festival’s Best TV and Films. Lyon, along with her segment producer Taryn Fixel, were named as finalists for the 2011 Livingston Awards for Young Journalists. A Facebook page created by Bahraini activists, entitled “Thank you Amber Lyon, CNN reporter | From people of Bahrain”, received more than 8,000 “likes”.
Despite these accolades, and despite the dangers their own journalists and their sources endured to produce it, CNN International (CNNi) never broadcast the documentary. Even in the face of numerous inquiries and complaints from their own employees inside CNN, it continued to refuse to broadcast the program or even provide any explanation for the decision. To date, this documentary has never aired on CNNi.
CNNi’s refusal to broadcast ‘iRevolution’
It is CNN International that is, by far, the most-watched English-speaking news outlet in the Middle East. By refusing to broadcast “iRevolution”, the network’s executives ensured it was never seen on television by Bahrainis or anyone else in the region.
CNNi’s decision not to broadcast “iRevolution” was extremely unusual. Both CNN and CNNi have had severe budget constraints imposed on them over the last several years. One long-time CNN employee (to whom I have granted anonymity to avoid repercussions for negative statements about CNN’s management) described “iRevolution” as an “expensive, highly produced international story about the Arab Spring”. Because the documentary was already paid for by CNN, it would have been “free programming” for CNNi to broadcast, making it “highly unusual not to air it”. The documentary “was made with an international audience as our target”, said Lyon. None of it was produced on US soil. And its subject matter was squarely within the crux of CNN International’s brand.
CNNi’s refusal to broadcast “iRevolution” soon took on the status of a mini-scandal among its producers and reporters, who began pushing Lyon to speak up about this decision. In June 2011, one long-time CNN news executive emailed Lyon:
“Why would CNNi not run a documentary on the Arab Spring, arguably the the biggest story of the decade? Strange, no?”
Motivated by the concerns expressed by long-time CNN journalists, Lyon requested a meeting with CNNi’s president, Tony Maddox, to discuss the refusal to broadcast the documentary. On 24 June 2011, she met with Maddox, who vowed to find out and advise her of the reasons for its non-airing. He never did.
In a second meeting with Maddox, which she had requested in early December to follow up on her unanswered inquiry, Lyon was still given no answers. Instead, at that meeting, Maddox, according to Lyon, went on the offense, sternly warning her not to speak publicly about this matter. Several times, Maddox questioned her about this 18 November 2011 tweet by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, demanding to know what prompted it.