A RadioTimes.com poll asking users to vote for the best Bafta-nominated current affairs film has itself become a news story, with pro-democracy campaigners and supporters of the Bahrain government transforming it into an unlikely political arena, prompting more than 1.38 million votes to be cast.
The poll gives visitors to the site an opportunity to pick their favourite film from one of four contenders in the Bafta TV Awards’ current affairs category: the Al Jazeera film Bahrain: Shouting in the Dark, Channel 4’s Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields and two BBC1 Panorama programmes. But it has quickly become about far more than a television award.
A week ago, Bahrain foreign minister Khalid Al Khalifa took to social networking site Twitter urging his followers to vote against the Al Jazeera documentary, which profiles the suppression of an uprising in Bahrain during the Arab Spring of 2011.
“I call on everyone to stand with Bahrain and vote against the harmful Al Jazeera film,” tweeted Al Khalifa, eliciting thousands of votes for Channel 4 documentary Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields as an alternative to Shouting in the Dark.
Opponents of the Bahrain regime responded by voting for the Al Jazeera film and using social media and Internet forums to encourage others to do the same. Further voters then entered the fray, motivated not just by their stance on Bahrain, but as active supporters of Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields, which reports on the actions of members of the Sri Lankan government during the country’s civil war.
Twitter users, including the documentary’s presenter Jon Snow and its director Callum Macrae, used the hashtag #killingfields as they shared links to the vote.
Macrae told RadioTimes.com: “It’s extraordinary how this Radio Times poll has turned into nothing less than an international pro-democracy campaign.
“The votes for both of these films are votes for truth, justice and democracy,” he added. “Taken together they should be a warning to repressive regimes, whether in Sri Lanka or Bahrain, that people are demanding change.”
In a statement, published on RadioTimes.com, Al Jazeera, the makers of Bahrain: Shouting in the Dark said they were “surprised by the level of opposition to the film” but admitted they’d “been equally taken aback by the positive reaction.” Al Jazeera also raised concerns at some of the “thousands of Arabic language tweets” being sent relating to the poll, “many of them filled with religious epithets and hate speech”.
Last night, another surge in voting traffic on the site has seen the biggest gap in several days open up between the two films. Currently, Bahrain: Shouting in the Dark has just over 52 per cent in the poll (720,000 votes), with Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields on 47.6 per cent (657,000 votes). The Panorama documentaries The Truth About Adoption and Undercover Care – The Abuse Exposed have each received just a fraction of one percent of the overall votes.