Treat yourself over the holidays to a peek at Bahrain's state media website (http://bna.bh/portal/en). It's all you'd expect from an authoritarian regime's mouthpiece. There's the fawning updates on the ruling family's every move, reports on various sycophantic courtiers telling the king how great he is, and coverage of the endless orgy of congratulatory cables sent from various minor royals to others.
Since the violent government response to largely peaceful protests in 2011, the BNA and other loyalist papers have produced a relentless diet of uncritical information supporting the authorities and their continuing attacks on dissent.
But what sets the Bahrain News Agency apart from other totalitarian state media is its incompetence, which makes it the toaster in the bathtub of Bahrain's credibility.
It's not just that it regularly publishes vacuous stories or ones that are that are untrue, but articles that are easily exposed as fabricated.
In June 2011 the BNA reported that United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, in a meeting with Bahrain Minister Fatima Al Balooshi, admitted that her office had "been misinformed about Bahrain." The following day Pillay's office issued a blunt denial, stating "Ms. Pillay did not tell Ms. Al Balooshi that her office had recognized it had received misinformation about recent developments in Bahrain, as was reported by the Bahrain News Agency. The High Commissioner would like to stress that she made no such statement, and is disturbed by this blatant distortion of her words."
There was also that time in September 2013 when, after a delegation of Bahraini MPs met U.S. Ambassador to the UN Eileen Donohue, the BNA reported she not only "listened to the Bahraini Parliamentary delegation's viewpoint," but that she "agreed that the activity of members of the legislative authority showcases [sic] the true nature incidents in the Kingdom of Bahrain."
The next day Donahue's office issued a sharp rebuttal, stating "its deep disappointment and concern over gross factual inaccuracies presented in Bahraini press [about the meeting]... The statements attributed to the Ambassador in the Bahrain News Agency and Gulf Daily News stories are inaccurate."
The Gulf Daily News (GDN), the pro-government paper which also carried the fabricated report of the Donahue meeting, appears to have the BNA as its unsavoury mentor.
In October 2013 the GDN splashed a story quoting retired U.S. General Hugh Shelton saying "America thought Bahrain was easy prey that will serve as key to the collapse of the GCC regime and lead to giant oil companies controlling oil in the Gulf," citing an interview with Fox News as its source. The next day Shelton responded with "I am dismayed at reports that attribute to me false allegations regarding U.S. government attempts to destabilize the governments of Bahrain and Egypt. I did not make these statements, and they do not reflect my views. Moreover, to the best of my knowledge, the interview never happened."
Then in September this year the GDN reported that during a visit to Washington, D.C. the regime's PR effort "This is Bahrain" had "signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the U.S.-based Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) in a bid to improve the perception of the country abroad," saying that "Bahrain Federation of Expatriate Associations secretary-general Betsy Mathieson, who is leading a 'This is Bahrain' delegation to the US, signed the document with MEMRI vice-president Alberto Fernandez at its headquarters in Washington."
Guess what happened next? Yep, Alberto Fernandez immediately issued an astonished denial, called "Bahrain and the Politics of Deceit," detailing his version of what happened during the "This Is Bahrain" visit. "Ostensibly a private group, it came accompanied by a camera crew and photographer from the Bahrain state media and a handler from the Bahrain government," he said. "As the meeting ended, the expat lady leader mentioned in passing the idea of signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU).... Imagine our surprise the next day when we saw public remarks from this expat businesswoman that MEMRI had signed a MoU with Bahrain! An idea suddenly raised by one individual is transmogrified into a signed document?" Since the BNA issued its first report on April Fool's Day in 1978 it has offered a series of often barely credible stories as "news." Breathless updates on the movements of the ruling family are churned out hourly in Arabic, English and French. The prime minister makes a successful trip to the doctor? News. The minister of the interior at horseracing? News. King's son gives out sports medals? News.
The Crown Prince's son graduates from a British naval college? He gets congratulatory messages? So does his mum? News, news and major news.
There's something almost charming about the BNA's serial ineptitude, and it's little surprise that the government is losing the international PR war. Bahrain spends an astonishing amount of money in trying to project a sophisticated image abroad, only for its official news agency to devastatingly undermines its efforts. Treat yourself, take a look.