F1 handed Bahrain more than just a propaganda victory

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Start, Bahrain, 2012F1 gave the Bahrain regime a propaganda victory from the moment they arrived in F1 to put on a race billed as “UniF1ed – one nation in celebration”, until they left the circuit, passing banners bearing the new legend “UniF1ed – we did it!”

Last year the Bahrain royal family shelled out ??25m ($40m) for a race that never happened after pro-democracy protests were brutally suppressed. This year they were determined to get their money’s worth.

Eyeing a pay day estimated at $220m, much of which will filter its way back to them, the ruling royal family could afford to spare no expense when it came to security.

Those who came to race, and more importantly those who came to write about it, were cocooned in a Truman Show world into which Bahrain’s pro-democracy protesters could not intrude.

Clearly, some preferred life that way. The day after Bahraini protester Salah Abbas Habib Musa was found dead in a nearby village, Toro Rosso team principal Franz Tost lavished praise on those running F1 for keeping them from being inconvenienced:

“I want to thank his royal highness prince Salman Bin Hamad Al Khalifa crown prince, the FIA, its president Jean Todt as well as Bernie Ecclestone and the organisers, especially their chairman Zayed Alzayani for their work in ensuring this race took place. From our perspective, we encountered no problems, neither at the race track nor in Manama.”

Manipulating the media

The transparently manipulative PR tactics of the Bahrain government provide further evidence of how F1 was used to push a politically convenient view of the country. Those who came to report on Formula 1 were allowed in. Those who came to report on the country, by and large, were not.

After the race Force India deputy team principal Bob Fernley – whose own team members witnessed a petrol bomb attack – insisted that “the Bahraini authorities… have laid themselves bare to the world’s media. If that is not transparency, what is?”

In fact, they did nothing of the sort. The Bahrain government plainly wanted to restrict journalists to writing about how wonderful their race was and nothing else.

That much was made clear when a member of the ruling family and government spokesman Sheikh Abdul-Aziz bin Mubarak al-Khalifa tried to peddle the “transparency” line to one of the very news organisations his country had attempted to shut out:

The Bahrainis blocked the attempts of journalists to report the real situation in the country, while cosying up to those who kept their eyes fixed on the track.

But even those who tried to ask questions they thought the authorities would approve of were censured for not being sufficiently sycophantic.

Those media outlets which wished to see both sides of the story sent their F1 reporters beyond the confines of the paddock. It created friction between those who had seen what the Bahrainis wanted them to see, and those who had been out the examine the country for themselves.

“I like those who criticise journalists doing their job from the beach in Dubai and one, incredibly, who thought was all quiet from Starbucks,” said The Times’s Kevin Eason, the latter remark seemingly directed at an article by Joe Saward.

“They should be ashamed that they call themselves journalists. They treat the word with great disrespect. Apologist perhaps.”

F1 supports the Bahrain regime

Ferrari demonstration, 2012 Bahrain Grand Prix,In light of the Bahrain regime’s blatant attempts to manipulate reportage of the event, claims by those in F1 that the media “politicised” the race don’t hold water.

F1′s presence was not wholly negative – it gave wider attention to the protesters and a chance to make their voices heard. But it was of far greater value to their oppressors, both in presenting a misleading view of life returning to normal in Bahrain, and in lining their pockets – all those security forces need paying for, of course.

The backing of F1 acts as an inducement for the Bahraini government to continue stalling the reforms its people are crying out for. By its complicity F1 endorsed the governemnt’s policy of repression.

If those responsible for the sport – be it Jean Todt, Bernie Ecclestone, the team owners or their employees – choose to believe otherwise, or insist it was merely a media creation, they are deluding themselves. To the rulers of Bahrain, the media were just another inconvenience to be manipulated.

F1 put on pretty little show without questioning why it was there or what its presence was being used for and spent a weekend in the service of a cruel and oppressive regime.

After the race

It remains to be seen where Bahrain will go from this. The hunger striker whose appeal was, quite cynically, scheduled for the day after the race, faces another delay in his hearing.

The authorities say they will investigate the protester’s death. A doctor who inspected they body unofficially found “shotgun pellet wounds, broken bones, friction burns and other injuries”.

Predictably, Bernie Ecclestone is adamant next year’s race will go ahead and the Grand Prix will remain on the calendar “forever”.

During the weekend Mercedes team principal Ross Brawn asked for a debate on their presence in Bahrain: “We are here now, and after this event we need to sit down and discuss it.”

Further developments over the next 12 months will be covered here.

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128 comments on F1 handed Bahrain more than just a propaganda victory

  1. I don’t see how anyone could accuse Keith (or anyone else) of blowing up the situation in Bahrain when there’s plenty of evidence to show that human rights abuses are occurring (esp. as Keith always backs up what he says) and there’s plenty of evidence to show Bahrain is trying to suppress the media that goes against its positive PR mission.

    Thanks Keith for speaking up (or typing) and trying to show people what’s really going on and that it was shameful that the F1 race went ahead. This whole thing has seriously put me off the sport. I didn’t watch the last race and I’m absolutely disgusted in F1. I love the racing but everything else has driven me mad. I’m not a fanatic any more but just a casual fan and if the race goes ahead again next year in similar circumstances I’ll be lucky if I’m a fan at all.

  2. Lin1876 (@lin1876) said on 25th April 2012, 20:40

    A very good article Keith. I personally did watch the race (but I fully understand why others chose not to), but I had no passion for the sport. I turned off as soon as the podium was finished and carried on with my life for the rest of the day, when I would otherwise have watched for as long as I could before going out for the evening.

    I hope Bernie and the FIA learn from this, and see the damage they have done. I have no real problem with F1 going to new places such as China, whose human rights record is appauling, because the race is not used as a political tool. In Bahrain, F1 justified the regime which was, as the race was in progress, suppressing protest for the sake of normality.

    I will tune in for Barcelona, but will it ever be the same? I’m not so sure…

    • Kimi4WC said on 25th April 2012, 23:42

      Deleting comments that provide different point of view from people who actually down at Bahrain.

      I think OP is very much driven by his own emotions or agenda. Looks more like something you would read on FOX NEWS.

      Totally blown out of proportion.

      • Matt (@agentmulder) said on 26th April 2012, 5:15

        Same could be said for MSNBC or, to a much lesser extent, CNN. Everyone has their agenda, everyone has their slant. I posted my opinion, it wasn’t deleted, so obviously something happened with the site or you acted disrespectfully.

        I personally think this situation is overblown on all sides, and over the weekend I didn’t agree with much of what this site posted. But you have to respect Keith for not letting this go. The race may be over, but the country still has issues, and Keith obviously feels that they should be kept in the light.

        I suspected most F1 sites would abandon Bahrain discussion just as quickly as they picked up the pitchforks. I for one am glad this site isn’t one of those.

      • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 26th April 2012, 8:44

        Deleting comments that provide different point of view from people who actually down at Bahrain.

        I have never done anything of the sort.

        I don’t know what you’re referring to by “OP”, but as I pointed out earlier in the comments this is clearly labelled as a comment piece so complaining that I’ve used it to express an opinion is preposterous.

  3. ozzy (@ozzy) said on 25th April 2012, 22:33

    Most disgraceful sport ever. I hope Bernie goes to hell.

  4. smudgersmith1 (@smudgersmith1) said on 25th April 2012, 22:33

    Many of the countries in the region are family run businesses , no prizes for which country The House of Saud control !

  5. Thecollaroyboys (@thecollaroyboys) said on 25th April 2012, 22:35

    I’d have to say that “propaganda victory” is dead wrong. The Bahrain government opened themselves up to even greater scrutiny simply by refusing entry to journalists. Going ahead with the race was guaranteed to give themselves worldwide publicity, and it’s been almost totally negative. Had they have just said that they would postpone the race so they can further consult with the anti government groups they would have looked statesman-like and caring and the world’s media would have wandered off and left them alone to continue their odious rule for another year. Their media management of the whole dog’s breakfast was no better than a 10 year old construct. The Bahraini government should sack their PR people pronto.

  6. bernieslovechild said on 25th April 2012, 23:13

    Absolute Rubbish – They screwed up. They never expected what would happen and the whirlwind that would ensue.

    Even Bernie is saying “uniF1ed” should never have been used. (his usual praxis – post rationalisation of a prior event).

    BREAKING NEWS. BREAKING NEWS….. Bernie is now saying he told the Bahraini’s to take down the “uniF1ed” banners”. Urm is he telling porkies?

    These campaigns have been running since February. And supposedly Bernie had people in Bahrain weeks before the event checking out the situation.

    Saint Bernie must be telling the truth – NOT!

  7. DaveW (@dmw) said on 25th April 2012, 23:18

    I know that in the U.S. F1 received more negative publicity, or publicity of any kind, in mainstream media in 3-4 days than since 2005. I haven’t done a Nexis search, but I gonig to guess its a big spike. So here, F1 is now basically Monaco and Bahrain in common consciousness. Also, ironically, it was a setback for Bahrain, whose problems are largely ignored here (The U.S. military sure isn’t keen to criticize their Al Khalifa landlords. Got to park those ships somehwhere, right?). Even with the hideous ongoing mess in Syria, we got to hear about Bahrain’s problems again, which had larglely disappeared from the press. For F1 and for Bahrain, this was a major screw up.

  8. bearforce1 (@bearforce1) said on 25th April 2012, 23:36

    Boring. Thank the Lord that this is only happening on this F1 website.

    Autosport reporting teams stating that the Bahrain issue was a media beat up.

    Good news is that next year the protesters will have almost no traction. The protests will be a non event except for here on F1F in a virtual environment.

    • Kimi4WC said on 25th April 2012, 23:43

      Amen.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 26th April 2012, 8:48

      @bearforce1 In the past week I must have read dozens of articles from major newspapers and prominent F1 journalists criticising the race, many of which I’ve supplied links to in the round-ups.

      Autosport reporting teams stating that the Bahrain issue was a media beat up.

      Which is referred and linked to in the article, and I’ve explained why blaming the media for it is complete nonsense.

      • bearforce1 (@bearforce1) said on 26th April 2012, 10:09

        Yeah that’s the problem you don’t link to other opposing views like the autosport piece I mentioned.

        You exercise doublethink with Mclaren.

        I know this is a personal cause for you and you think it important. The sad part is that your work is normally rock solid well supported and argued. Now you just sound like a salesman trying to sell something. I think looking at your usual stuff you could have done heaps better presenting both sides and still espousing a good cause.

        I on the other hand don’t really care because I do not think that there is really the violence that is claimed. If the violence was genuine then there would be good evidence which there isn’t any (mobile phones have video cameras in them) . Also more Sovereign nations would be active if there was a problem, they are not because there is no problem.

        Initially I commented cause I wanted the race to go ahead. Then I commented cause the trendy 20 second protesters tapping away taking up the cause (probably got all excited and got out their keffiyeh/kufiya scarves from when they were completing their arts degrees) were fun to play with.

        I still love the site and those that comment here.

        • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 26th April 2012, 10:23

          @bearforce1

          you don’t link to other opposing views like the Autosport piece I mentioned

          Yes I did. What more I just told you so in the last comment.

          I have also linked to other dissenting views, both here and many times in the daily round-ups. Indeed, I’ve gone much further than usual in referencing what I’ve written because the situation has been developing rapidly and because there is considerable debate surrounding it.

          I have my views and I will put them across when I choose to. In the past 16 days I have written three comment articles on Bahrain – one shortly after the race was confirmed, one in the run-up to the race covering the many developments and points of view, and this one, written after the events of the weekend looking back on it. I do not feel that is excessive and at every point I have taken care to reason and explain my point of view.

        • You didn’t read Keith’s answer to you!

          You obviously are not informing yourself on the Bahrain issue because you basically, as you say yourself “on the other hand don’t really care”. There is lots of evidence online taken from cellphones, there is lots of evidence in the press if you care to look. Do you really need someone to spoon-feed all the links to you?

          “Also more Sovereign nations would be active if there was a problem, they are not because there is no problem” is very poor logic. You may want to rethink that.

          • bearforce1 (@bearforce1) said on 27th April 2012, 0:37

            I like people like you who always make comments like “obviously you didn’t read” “you are not informing yourself” just because I disagree with you. Both sides to an argument can be well informed and disagree.

            All I have ever seen of violence and protests in Bahrain are a gaggle of people at most.

            As I said Sovereign States who have far better information resources than you and I and F1F have not seen fit to involve themselves. This is very hard for you to answer properly so you try go for sophistry.

            It appears to me that Bahrain is a storm in a tea cup. Though it is the perfect storm for Keith and others like you because it mixes F1 and political activism which for some is stimulating and perhaps a reminiscing of ones youth.

    • @bearforce1 I agree with you, and no offence to this site, but I’ll take Joe Sawards words over these – he actually goes to the races rather than, and I quote, “read dozens of articles from major newspapers ” and then regurgitate it into a blog. Don’t get me wrong, I like this site, but as a journalist you should know better than to believe everything you read in the news.

  9. Kimi4WC said on 25th April 2012, 23:47

    Were the problems being suppressed in the villages out of our view? Were we being duped? There was significant police presence but there always has been in Bahrain (and many other F1 races we visit, including armed personnel at some like Istanbul) and in any event we were promised security and safe passage.

    What Martin Brundle though of Bahrain: “skysports.com/formula-1/news/22058/7698801/Reflections-On-Bahrain”

    • Bernieslovechild said on 26th April 2012, 10:34

      Brundle has seriously gone down in my estimation, as have a number of F1 people I used to enjoy listening to.

      I saw comments on this site before the weekend saying things like “It will never be the same” and didn’t really think anything of it.

      But after listening to Nicki Lauda, Jackie Stewart, Martin Brundle and a host of others make ridiculous comments (all present in Bahrain due to the privilage of a Bernie pass) I am sensing I will never view these people the same way again.

      Will carry on watching and going to F1 – have done for 20 years. Just very sad at some very stupid people who should have known better.

  10. Prisoner Monkeys (@prisoner-monkeys) said on 26th April 2012, 7:28

    @keithcollantine – I have to disagree with this whole “propaganda victory” thing. If anything, it was a propaganda defeat. Nobody believes that Bahrain was uniF1ed, except for the government. The sheer amount of media attention ultimately worked out in favour of the protesters. So I don’t think Formula 1 was an accomplice to an oppressive regime. I think the sport aided and abetted a delusional fantasy.

    • Bernieslovechild said on 26th April 2012, 10:41

      @prisoner monkeys “So I don’t think Formula 1 was an accomplice to an oppressive regime”

      But that was the intention, and saying all’s well that ends well – is at times simply not good enough. F1 went to Bahrain with every intention to support their friends, allies and contributors – the AL KHALIFA family.

      The teams were gagged and threatened prior to the event and someone was killed.

      • Prisoner Monkeys (@prisoner-monkeys) said on 26th April 2012, 12:57

        But that was the intention

        Was it? I don’t recall anyone saying “We’re going to race in Bahrain because we like what the al Khalifas are doing”.

        The teams were gagged and threatened prior to the event

        Where is your proof of that?

        • AJ (@aj13) said on 26th April 2012, 18:17

          @Prisoner Monkeys Was it? I don’t recall anyone saying “We’re going to race in Bahrain because we like what the al Khalifas are doing”.

          Twisting words doesn’t work. The comment was made on your assertion, “I don’t think Formula 1 was an accomplice to an oppressive regime”. I suggest you review even in our liberal country how easy it is to become an accomplice.

          For anyone who reads only a little about F1, it was known in February that Bahraini promoters intended to use the “uniF1ed – one nation in celebration” campaign. It is most unreasonable to believe the F1 authorities missed this.

          Further, Todt when interviewed by the BBC said he saw no problem with the slogan, yet to the international media and observers (and anyone with half a brain) this association with F1 and “our nation” and where our nation is now at – “back on track” – is clearly intended to give the impression that F1′s view is supportive of the ruling Bahraini regimes image they wish to portay. A nuified nation.

          AN ACCOMPLICE BY ASSOICIATION I suggest.

          • Prisoner Monkeys (@prisoner-monkeys) said on 27th April 2012, 2:24

            But all of that – the slogan, everything – came from the Bahrainis. Not once did someone from the Formula 1 community actively throw support behind the al Khalifas. In fact, they all said that they went to Bahrain with the intention of racing, and that they did not consider the politics to be a part of it.

    • MagillaGorilla (@magillagorilla) said on 26th April 2012, 12:26

      So you do agree, that they made this a political tool either way by agreeing to uniF1ed and the FOM boss saying we shouldn’t have agreed to that and wanting to retract?

      I mean I’d just like to know since you had a differing view on GTP

  11. Dirk said on 26th April 2012, 11:00

    Solid piece, Keith.
    Good to see you are not kowtowing to the spin machine, unlike the vast majority of alleged “journalists” covering F1.
    Kudos!

  12. Keith it is sad to see that you are obsessing yourself over this Bahrain issue. Everything came out pretty swell, against what you wrote. It even seems Bahraini people both oppressors and oppressed are in a better position after F1 passed through. Why don’t you write about that? Even visit Bahrain and do some on the ground journalism?

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 26th April 2012, 21:55

      Everything came out pretty swell, against what you wrote.

      I wrote that Bahrain would use F1 for its political ends, and it did. I don’t think that’s a good thing, for the reasons explained above and in earlier articles.

      As for “obsessing”, as I’ve explained in earlier comments I think the degree of comment I’ve written on the issue has been proportional to the importance of the matter and relevant to events in Bahrain. It has had practically no effect on the amount of coverage elsewhere on the site.

      • M30 said on 27th April 2012, 2:32

        Well yes someone has to do it. I just thought it would be refreshing to see a pro-F1 in Bahrain article which I have not found across the “internets.”

  13. schooner (@schooner) said on 27th April 2012, 1:22

    Much has been written about the Bahrain GP, and it has become a real flashpoint on this site, with many well articulated views on the subject. Too many to read them all, really. Anyway, here is my (perhaps a bit simplistic) two cents worth. There are a lot of really bad things going on throughout the world. Some that get a lot of attention from the media, with the unrest in Bahrain being one of them, and so many more that aren’t as well reported. Now for the simplistic part. If all the top shelf international sporting organizations were to decide not to travel to, or compete in, any country where there is unsavory activity taking place, they would pretty much have to stay at home. And to stay true to that value, they would probably have to cease competition in their homelands as well. Mine included. High level sport can be a great, if fleeting, respite from the woes of the real world. Was it right for F1 to go ahead in Bahrain? How about the golf tourney the week before? I’m gonna say yes.

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