Ever since the Radio Times initiated an innocent poll on its website asking readers which programme they preferred to win the 2012 Bafta award for current affairs, the site has become a battleground for supporters and opponents of the Bahrain government. The poll has gone viral with over 536,000 votes at the time of writing at Thursday midday, and no end in sight.
It has been ever thus since we first aired our film Bahrain: Shouting in the Dark on Al Jazeera English last August. The film has excited passions and continues to do so. Despite this, some of the invective surrounding the Radio Times poll has exceeded what we have experienced up till now.
For several days, thousands of Arabic language tweets – at peak hours several tweets a second – have been pouring out of Bahrain and the Gulf in a steady stream, many of them filled with religious epithets and hate speech. Around half of them call on Arabs to “vote for Sri Lanka [the subject of a fellow nominee in our category] and prevent Shi’a infidels from defaming Bahrain,” to “vote 100 times, we have to break the heads of the traitorous bastards and of Al Jazeera the agent,” and “complete this vote for Sri Lanka so Al Jazeera loses and we give her a lesson she’ll never forget.”
Shouting in the Dark is competing with Channel 4’s Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields, and two BBC programmes, The Truth about Adoption and Undercover Care, for the prestigious real Bafta. In the on-line reader poll our film is neck and neck with Sri Lanka, each accumulating in excess of 264,000 “votes”. When you consider the population of Bahrain is around just 1.2m, these are staggering numbers.
Our film simply tells the story of the uprising in Bahrain in early 2011. Our filmmaker, May Ying Welsh, had to operate undercover for three months to bring these images to the world due to the ban on journalists in the country. The narratives in Bahrain are ultimately irreconcilable – on one hand of a peaceful democratic uprising and on the other of a sectarian, Iranian-backed attempted putsch. All we could do, and did, was get to grips with the story in the best manner possible.
While being surprised by the level of opposition to the film, we’ve been equally taken aback by the positive reaction. So far it has picked up awards from the UK Foreign Press Association, the Scripps Howard Foundation and a George Polk Award, as well as an RTS and Monte Carlo nomination. The Bafta nomination is the latest piece of good news, and we’re honoured to be listed amongst some of the most popular and well known British documentaries.
See Al Jazeera’s documentary Bahrain: Shouting in the Dark below, and watch Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields on 4oD.