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A Bahraini news agency reported that Bahrain plans to sue the UK Independent. (Credit: BNA, screenshot)

Bahrain has filed a defamation lawsuit against The Independent newspaper and specifically its reporter Robert Fisk, The Guardian reported.

Bahrain began “legal procedures” against The Independent and alleged the newspaper “repeatedly” has written defamatory and inaccurate information about Bahrain, according to a June 14 article by state news outlet The Bahraini News Agency (BNA).  BNA reported that the Information Affairs Authority had a “UK-based legal firm” involved in the matter.

(BNA), formerly known as Gulf News Agency, states on its website that it “is an extension to the Information Affairs Authority (IAA) ”

Bahrain’s “publications director-general” Nawaf Mohammed Al-Maawda reportedly commented to BNA that The Independent  “deliberately published a series of unrealistic and provocative articles targeting Bahrain and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”

The BNA report goes on to accuse The Independent of “professional impartiality.”

AsThe Guardian explained, The Independent’s Fisk has questioned if the Bahraini royal family has “gone mad.”

The AFP added that, among other comments, Fisk’s June 14 highly critical opinion article claimed the Saudis “simply invaded and received a post-dated invitation” into Bahrain.

Fisk also claimed that the “Bahraini royal family started an utterly fraudulent trial” alleging that 48 medical doctors and professionals attempted to “topple the tin-pot monarchy of this Sunni minority emirate.”  Fisk defended the doctors and called the “charges…a pack of lies.” See Fisk’s column here.

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Media law consultant David Banks commented in an article for The Guardian that “If the Bahraini government succeeds in bring a libel action against the Independent to court, it would be going against the well-established principle that governments cannot sue for libel.”

Banks noted that in a 1993 case, the House of Lords ruled that “a democratically elected governmental body should be open to uninhibited public criticism” and therefore “institutions of central or local government” shouldn’t be able to sue for defamation.

While Bahraini’s government is “unelected,” Banks still questioned if the court would permit the government to sue.  He wrote:

“It would set a curious precedent, though, for the courts here to say that our own elected governments should expect robust media criticism, but unelected dictators and despots can rely on the full protection of our libel laws.

Banks suggested that “one or a number of” Bahraini ministers could sue in place of the government though.

The Independent reported on the lawsuit threat but didn’t make any comment.

iMediaEthics is writing to The Independent and Bahrain’s IAA for comment and will update with any response.

UPDATE: 06/17/2011 9:18 AM EST : Added in more information about Robert Fisk’s June 14 column on Bahrain.

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Bahrain to Sue the UK Independent Newspaper?

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