Bahrain’s PR Campaign Is Doomed to Fail
Hey, do you happen to be the proprietor of a family-run dictatorship in the Middle East? Tired of seeing stories about your country that are all, “Bahrain Princess Accused of Torture” and “Teenager Killed in Bahrain Anniversary Protests” and “The US Sold a Bunch of Weapons to Bahrain During Its Brutal Crackdown” and even “King of Bahrain Beats Up Arab Pop Star on a Yacht”? That sure is some bad “optics,” as they say in the business, and you probably can’t repair your reputation solely through articles titled “Bahrain a Land of tolerance…” in government-run media outlets, especially when that ellipsis might be an indication that even the “journalists” on your payroll can barely believe the shit they’re writing.
One way to solve your image problem would to welcome reform and stop committing gross human rights violations—ha, ha, just kidding! Clearly that’s not on the table, so you need to spend millions on PR and invite journalists to your brand new Formula 1 race track to see how lovely it is. According to Bahrain Watch, that’s what the country’s regime has been doing: It’s spent at least $32 million on image management since the start of the Arab Spring. I’m familiar with this because one of these companies threatened to sue the Guardianfor libel after I wrote an article with Nabeel Rajab which accused the Bahraini security forces of torturing employees at the F1 track. The PR firm did not question that torture had taken place, just that it had not happened on the premises of the F1 track. The libel threat was eventually withdrawn after a footnote was added to the article, but the point was made: We have money and we will bully and threaten you if you criticize us.