Bahraini TV station disconnected from its audience

(IPI/IFEX) – Nearly two years after an upstart TV station kicked off with the intention of serving Bahrain, it is still unable to reach its core audience.

Only four hours after LuaLua TV, which is licensed in the United Kingdom, started operating from a warehouse in North West London in July 2011, its satellite signal experienced a disruption caused by an unknown third party – a process commonly known as “jamming”.

A Eutelsat report that LuaLua TV sent to IPI shows that the source of the jamming originated from Bahrain.

Station manager Yasser Alsayegh wrote: “Although it is not possible to know for certain that the Government of Bahrain is carrying out this interference, it is of course very likely. Such an operation costs a huge amount of money and expertise and therefore it seems impossible that there was no official involvement in this process.”

LuaLua TV, features news, but also social and entertainment programming. It employs around 30 journalists, four of whom are actually stationed in Bahrain according to Alsayegh.

As the Times reports the channel was denied licensing as well as the right to report from within the country several times and therefore decided to relocate to the UK.

Lualua TV says it tries to provide an alternative point of view to state controlled media.

As Alsayegh told IPI: “We have never had this in the past, all media have been state run and tows the state line. This was crystallized after the protests of February 2011 in which the state TV channels were used to target protesters, activists and human rights defenders and used to discredit the calls for democracy.”

Despite the continued interference with its satellite broadcast, Lulua tries hard to reach its audience in Bahrain.

It has established an Internet live stream as well as a mobile phone app. However, this online content has also been continuously blocked for viewers in Bahrain. For Alsayegh this is further evidence that the Bahraini government is responsible for the interference.

As he pointed out to IPI: “Given that the online broadcast is also blocked, that is clear evidence of state involvement as only they have the ability to limit internet access in the country. ”

In Alsayegh’s opinion the interference with its broadcast is not only a heavy blow to press freedom in Bahrain but it undermines the possibility for the channel to survive in the long run.

Lulua TV, is currently sponsored by donors from the Arab world, whose identities Alsayegh does not want to reveal out of, what he says, security considerations.

The channel is trying to become increasingly self-sufficient through marketing and advertisement, but its ability to do so is limited, given the constant interference with its broadcast.

As Alyasegh told IPI: “We have good journalists who are working hard but every day they are losing morale as no one is able to watch their work. Our ability to advertise is damaged by the jamming and ultimately if this continues the station comes under a real threat.”

The particular effort to jamming satellite signals remains a widespread practice in a region in which press freedom suffers rather than thrives.

In November of last year, the BBC reported that their broadcasts had been subject to repeated jamming attacks by the Iranian government. In recent years, Deutsche Welle, Voice of America and Al Jazeera have given similar reports. Iran has also been blocking the Persian language website of Voice of Russia since Feb. 13, according to a report from Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty.

Signal jamming, though, pales in comparison with the threats journalists face when reporting from within these countries.

In January of this year the Bahrain Center for Human Rights expressed its grave concern over the escalated use of torture against journalists by the authorities in Bahrain. Other human rights groups also have documented the detention of and physical assaults on journalists, including the deaths of journalists in custody, as well as government-sponsored billboards and advertisements smearing journalists and activists.

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