Little more than three months after Tunisian street vendor, Tarek al-Tayeb Mohamed Bouazizi, set himself on fire on December 17th 2010, and as the Arab Spring was spreading, CNN sent a four-person crew that included investigative reporter, and three times Emmy award-winning correspondent, Amber Lyon, into the region to produce a one-hour documentary.
“iRevolution: Online Warriors of the Arab Spring” focussed on the use of social media by demonstrators and other pro-democracy activists, and cost more than $100,000, an unusually large sum for an investigative documentary of that length. Broadcast on CNN’s domestic outlet (available only in the US) on June 19th 2011, it received tremendous acclaim, including a Facebook page created by Bahraini activists, entitled “Thank you Amber Lyon, CNN reporter | From people of Bahrain”, that has received more than 8,000 “likes”
The documentary also picked up many awards, including a 2012 Gold Medal from New York Festival’s Best TV and Films. Yet CNN have never aired the documentary since then, and in spite of many complaints from employees within CNN, it has never been released to a worldwide audience on CNN International (CNNi):
CNNi’s refusal to broadcast “iRevolution” soon took on the status of a mini-scandal among its producers and reporters, who began pushing Lyon to speak up about this decision. In June 2011, one long-time CNN news executive emailed Lyon:
“Why would CNNi not run a documentary on the Arab Spring, arguably the the biggest story of the decade? Strange, no?”
Motivated by the concerns expressed by long-time CNN journalists, Lyon requested a meeting with CNNi’s president, Tony Maddox, to discuss the refusal to broadcast the documentary. On 24 June 2011, she met with Maddox, who vowed to find out and advise her of the reasons for its non-airing. He never did.
In a second meeting with Maddox, which she had requested in early December to follow up on her unanswered inquiry, Lyon was still given no answers. Instead, at that meeting, Maddox, according to Lyon, went on the offense, sternly warning her not to speak publicly about this matter.1
To read more about the story of the extraordinary problems that were encountered during the making of the documentary and more on why CNN is still refusing to air its own documentary, I refer you to Glenn Greenwald’s article published in the Guardian on Tuesday 4th September.
A 13-minute long segment of the documentary that featured Bahrain, and which Greenwald describes as “a hard-hitting and unflinching piece of reporting that depicts the regime in a very negative light” has since been posted on YouTube. It is also embedded below:
In March 2012, Amber Lyon was laid off from CNN “as part of an unrelated move by the network to outsource its investigative documentaries”:
Now at work on a book, Lyon began in August to make reference to “iRevolution” on her Twitter account, followed by more than 20,000 people.
On 16 August, Lyon wrote three tweets about this episode. CNNi’s refusal to broadcast “iRevolution”, she wrote, “baffled producers”. Linking to the YouTube clip of the Bahrain segment, she added that the “censorship was devastating to my crew and activists who risked lives to tell [the] story.” She posted a picture of herself with [human rights activist Nabeel] Rajab and wrote:
“A proponent of peace, @nabeelrajab risked his safety to show me how the regime oppresses the [people] of #Bahrain.”
The following day, a representative of CNN’s business affairs office called Lyon’s acting agent, George Arquilla of Octagon Entertainment, and threatened that her severance payments and insurance benefits would be immediately terminated if she ever again spoke publicly about this matter, or spoke negatively about CNN.
Click here to read more of Glenn Greenwald’s excellent Guardian article.
Aside from protecting US political and military interests, there also turns out to be a more self-interested reason behind CNN’s reticence in broadcasting their own journalists’ exposure of the Bahraini regime:
At the same time as CNN was covering the regime, Bahrain was an aggressive participant in CNN’s various “sponsorship” opportunities, with official agencies of the regime often boasting of how their extensive involvement with CNN was improving the nation’s image around the world. Beyond that, there are multiple examples of CNN International producing plainly propagandistic coverage of the regime, often without any minimal disclosure of the vested interests of its sources.
The primary regime agency exploiting these opportunities at CNNi is the Bahrain Economic Development Board (BEDB). It describes itself as “responsible for marketing the Kingdom of Bahrain abroad”. The agency is chaired by “His Royal Highness Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, the Crown Prince”.
Click here to read more about how CNN has blurred the line between journalism and state propaganda in Glenn Greenwald’s companion article published the same day [Sept 4th].
Lyon says she personally knows many journalists who are equally as concerned that major stories such as, and she cites as further examples, construction of the huge NSA surveillence centre at Bluffdale, Utah, and signing of the NDAA 2012 indefinite detention bill, are also not being widely reported on by the mainstream media. Her former colleagues are too intimidated to come forward, Lyon says, and so she now sees it as her duty to encourage all disaffected journalists to break their silence:
“I want to encourage mainstream journalists to speak up when they discover their companies are misleading the people, doing PR for corporations and governments and disguising it as journalism. Many journalists get into this business, for low pay and grueling hours, because they genuinely want to make a difference, expose injustice. But what’s the point if the elephant in the room is the conduct of own company, and you ignore it?”3
For these reasons, Lyon has plans to produce an alternative news network which she hopes will be running by early next year. It will be called muckraker.
To watch other reports by Amber Lyon on subjects ranging from hackers, human and animal rights, to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the nuclear industry, and child sex trafficking, you can also visit her website www.amberlyonlive.com.
The day after I posted this article, Wednesday October 3rd, Amber Lyon was also interviewed on Russia Today:
1 From an article entitled “Why didn’t CNN’s international arm air its own documentary on Bahrain’s Arab Spring repression? – A former CNN correspondent defies threats from her former employer to speak out about self-censorship at the network”, written by Glenn Greenwald, published in the Guardian on September 4, 2012. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/sep/04/cnn-international-documentary-bahrain-arab-spring-repression
2 From an article entitled “CNN and the business of state-sponsored TV news: The network is seriously compromising its journalism in the gulf states by blurring the line between advertising and editorial”, written by Glenn Greenwald, published in the Guardian on September 4, 2012. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/sep/04/cnn-business-state-sponsored-news