“Our Men in Bahrain”

16 Apr

After a thrilling race in Shanghai, the F1 paddock is currently making its way to Bahrain ready for the race due to take place this weekend. Some have gone straight to Bahrain, while others are biding time in the UAE or elsewhere. Amongst those who’ve gone straight to Bahrain are some of the F1 press corps.

The debate about the Bahrain Grand Prix has been simmering ever since the race was confirmed on the 2012 calendar, but the eyes of the world have been focussed on other areas of the MENA region since the uprisings last spring with little attention being paid to events in Bahrain. In recent weeks as the race weekend approaches, the question about whether F1 should return there has inevitably been making headline news.

As we’re all aware, the authorities in Bahrain are telling the world all is well in the country and that the race will unify the country, while blaming the foreign press for overstating the ongoing tensions there. This isn’t surprising; it goes against the very essence of the UNIF1ED promotional campaign for the Grand Prix which was intended to tell the world that the race is a good thing for the country.

It is also worth noting that press outlets in Bahrain are either owned by the government or closely linked to it; opposition press is pretty scant. It is relatively easy to convince those in the city that there are just a few skirmishes happening in villages when the streets of Manama are quiet. Having this much media scrutiny which they can’t influence will be making many in the halls of power in Manama extremely uncomfortable. To refuse visas to journalists arriving for the Grand Prix would be a guaranteed PR disaster, so they need to take their chances and let them in.

From what I have seen and heard recently about life in Bahrain, it strikes me that the authorities in Bahrain have been naive about their ability to convince the world that all is well, and up until this week it has been a bit of a case of ‘he said, she said’ between their PR machine and the western media. This week, we can find out once and for all how things really are through the eyes and ears of those members of the F1 press corps who are already on the ground in Bahrain. Other sections of the media are also watching the situation closely.

While perusing my twitter timeline this afternoon I was fascinated by updates appearing from two journalists, Byron Young (The Mirror – @byronf1) and Ian Parkes (Press Association – @ianparkesf1), who had gone to the village of Salmabad to observe the final day of mourning for a local cameraman who had been shot and killed on Friday. They tweeted what they saw as it happened, including a number of pictures. Tensions were high and resulted in a clash between the police and protesters. I can highly recommend reading their tweets from this afternoon.

Other journalists besides Byron and Ian are in Bahrain, including Kevin Eason (The Times – @easonf1). Kevin has been one of the most outspoken F1 journalists about the way in which FOM and the FIA have handled the decision about Bahrain, and you may have seen his piece over the weekend criticising Jean Todt. Kevin was first man at the Bahrain circuit today, and his first piece from Bahrain will be in the Times tomorrow which I’m sure will be another good read (note: I am in no way affiliated with News International….or related to Kevin…).

Every journalist from every news outlet will have their own slant on a situation, and so it is always worth reading across the spectrum to get a balanced view. Other journalists/news outlets worth following (some in Bahrain and some not) this week for some different perspectives are:

Gary Meenaghan – @GMeenaghan (Sports Writer for The National, Abu Dhabi – the main non-gov’t newspaper in the UAE).

Will Buxton – @willbuxton (Speed Channel. Will was in Bahrain in February last year).

Frank Gardner – @FrankRGardner (BBC Security Correspondent & Middle East expert – Frank isn’t in Bahrain but has been reporting on the Bahrain Grand Prix for the BBC for the last week or so).

Aljazeera – @AJEnglish (Arabic news channel based in Qatar – this is their English news feed. Aljazeera tends to be associated in our minds with videos of hostages or messages from Bin Laden, but they are a good source for Middle Eastern news so don’t be put off!!).

The situation in Bahrain is likely to get more tense as the race weekend approaches, and opinions amongst the press are likely to diverge. I can’t predict who will go which way; only time will tell.

Since I’m writing about the F1 media, I wanted to take a moment to tip my virtual hat to those who bring the F1 news to us . We tend to get a lot of our F1 news from the broadcasting teams who host our TV coverage, but there are so many more journalists following the F1 circus around the world who bring us a range of insights in to our beloved sport. Some we will agree with, some we won’t but that’s the whole point of journalism for me – to get people talking.

As Ian Parkes tweeted, it is his duty as a journalist to see for himself what is happening in Bahrain, and after all these weeks of speculation it is great to see these professionals doing just that. Some of their colleagues are spending time in Dubai before going on to Bahrain later in the week. I’ll be interested to see if they do the same as their colleagues when they arrive in the country.

Likewise, some broadcasters and journalists aren’t travelling to Bahrain at all this week due to security concerns or out of conscience. I can understand these reasons completely as I have been very critical of the decision to proceed with the race, but as a complete news junkie who has been following events in Bahrain closely, I am also curious to know more about what is happening there this week.

Whatever happens, it is going to be a fascinating week and I am grateful to all those journalists who have travelled to Bahrain to share what they see with us.


One Response to ““Our Men in Bahrain””

  1. James Harrison April 19, 2012 at 7:48 pm #

    Hi Schuvettelainen fan

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