Please summarize the strategic advantages of Bahrain as a nation and as an investment destination, paying particular attention to how the country differentiates itself from its GCC neighbors.
H.E. Ali Bin Mohammed Al-Rumaihi (ABMAR): Thanks to its unique status as a veritable melting pot for civilizations, cultures and commercial exchange consolidated over thousands of years, Bahrain, as the land of the ancient Dilmun civilization, has always been an outstanding trading center linking east and west.
Bahrain's history in making a name for itself as the Gulf’s commercial crossroads and trade hub, is today being reinforced by its robust emergence as an investment magnet, a modern state with one of most diversified economies in the region, strong performance indicators across all industries, a powerful regulatory framework and a deep commitment to a sustainable future that offers ample opportunities for all investors.
Its low commercial costs are highly favorable and operating costs are up to 40% less than in neighboring hubs. Whoever invests in Bahrain is most likely to enjoy significant financial benefits that ease business operations and increase competitiveness.
Investors certainly love life in Bahrain. The kingdom was this September voted the top-ranked country in the world by expatriates as the place to work and raise a family and for making foreigners feel welcome. It vastly outranked Arab and many European countries. The vote of confidence was given in the Expat Insider survey conducted each year by InterNations, a network of 2.8 million expats that is based in Munich.
PR: Please provide an overview of the Bahraini media landscape as it stands today, with a focus on the changing role of media and the key achievements of the Ministry of Information Affairs.
ABMAR: Media development in Bahrain is the culmination of a long history in the field of journalism and media since the beginning of the modern press in Bahrain in 1939 when the first newspaper "Bahrain News" was established. One year later, the first radio was launched.
In 1975, Bahrain Television started broadcasting and in 1976, Bahrain News Agency was launched under the name of "Gulf News Agency". The first official public information entity was set up in 1965 under the name of the Information Department of the Government of Bahrain, before becoming a ministry. It was renamed the Information Affairs Authority in July 2010 and the Ministry of State for Information Affairs in 2012 before it took its current name as the Ministry of Information Affairs.
The Supreme Information and Communication Authority was established as an independent body in June 2013 to oversee media and communication, express opinions on draft laws and licensing requests, and issue a binding media code of ethics that promotes neutrality and professionalism in all media and communication.
Indicators have reflected a remarkable development in newspapers, magazines, radio and television channels and news sites in terms of number and content as well as a remarkable diversity in dealing with national, regional and international issues freely and independently. All media operate within a political, cultural and intellectual pluralism and within a framework of the continuous upgrading of the institutional, legislative and technical systems to keep abreast with political and democratic openness and the huge boom in ICT.
Bahrain is in an era of a democratic atmosphere resulting from the reform process launched by HM King Hamad that included the National Action Charter, a far-reaching political, institutional and social contract overwhelmingly endorsed by Bahrainis in 2001, constitutional and legislative reforms and the consolidation of respect for human rights and political, civil, cultural and social rights. Such crucial factors have helped the media prosper and expand their professional scope. Today, Bahrain has a dozen daily newspapers in Arabic, English, Malayalam and Tagalog, 15 weekly newspapers and magazines, 38 monthly magazines, radio stations in several languages and television channels in Arabic and English, which is a remarkable feat for a country with a population of less than 1.4 million, including citizens and expatriates. All media operate in line with the constitution and the law in Bahrain that guarantees freedom of expression and opinion. Since the launch of the reforms in 2001, no journalist has been imprisoned or suspended nor a media outlet shut down for expressing views or opinions within the law. Bahrain is among the few countries that recognize journalists on a special day. Journalists and media figures are feted annually on Bahrain Press Day celebrated on May 7 in tribute to their immense and wide contributions.
PR: How successful has the Ministry of Information Affairs been in enhancing communication with local, regional and international media outlets and organizations?
ABMAR: Media outreach locally, regionally and internationally has long been a highly significant aspect of the strategy of the Ministry of Information Affairs. A core goal in the strategy is to build a strong network of global media contacts and to have open, honest and regular communications with all media outlets, partners and stakeholders in order to ensure there are smooth and steady interaction, full understanding and mutual appreciation.
The ministry has regularly participated in local, regional and international forums, gatherings and conferences to explain Bahrain’s success stories in several fields, highlight the facts on the ground, address malicious allegations and remove possible misunderstandings. The ministry has taken an active part in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Days in several cities to take the Gulf way of life, culture, history and ambitions to the international community.
This year, for instance, the ministry took part, alongside our Gulf partners, in conferences in the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Germany and the United States, and every experience was an opportunity to build new bridges of media and cultural exchanges, iron out misunderstandings, bias and prejudice and work together towards mutually rewarding cooperation and intercultural exchanges.
With the inexorable surge in the use of social media, the ministry set up departments devoted to widening communication with an increasingly diversified number of organizations and with the international community to convey Bahrain's perspectives and messages to the world.
PR: What role can international investment play in the further development of the media sector in Bahrain?
ABMAR: Bahrain is particularly known for being business friendly. The government is totally pro-business and the country is open for foreign direct investments. The country's commitment to motivating investors to contribute their creativity and knowledge to improve the media landscape and enhance the skills and aptitudes of journalists means better opportunities for the media, be they print, audio-visual or electronic.
Building on its reputation as an open and modern society that recognizes merit and rewards achievements, Bahrain has been heavily investing in the media to keep up with growing challenges and diversified demands.
The strong inspirational spirit of entrepreneurship has led several Bahrainis to invest in private national newspapers published daily, weekly or monthly and in magazines covering every subject possible. All newspapers in Bahrain are privately-owned.
Investments in the media have been local, regional and international. Alongside investments in equipment, there has also been impressive interest in human resources. The ministry has been holding workshops regularly to train journalists by a wide spectrum of local media outlets, bringing in some of the best trainers and professionals from the most advanced and accomplished institutions and companies in the world to share their experiences and knowledge with them. Contracts were signed with leading news agencies, television stations, media companies and institutes in the region, Europe, Asia and the Americas to ensure the best chances for success for those working in the public and private sectors of the media in Bahrain. For the ministry, investing in human resources and in capacity-building to boost their delivery levels and consolidating their sense of confidence are essential elements in its strategy.
PR: Please provide a summary of current Bahraini-U.S. relations and your hopes as your two countries continue to strengthen their ties.
ABMAR: Bahrain and the US have deep-rooted relations that are more than 100 years old. In fact, the American Mission Hospital was established in the capital Manama in 1902, and still exists today. Its dedication and commitment to working with Bahrainis have generated much goodwill and largely helped to create a positive image of the US and of Americans. Relations between the two countries have covered a wide scope of matters, especially after the US naval facility was established in 1947 and the Fifth Fleet in 1995.
Analysts argue that “the U.S. relationship with Bahrain is in some respects as close as Washington's relationship with its NATO allies." In 2002, the U.S. designated Bahrain a Major Non-NATO Ally. Bahrain has been playing a key role in the security architecture of the Gulf and is an active and important member of the U.S.-led multinational alliance against terrorism.
Bilateral trade between Bahrain and the U.S. has been steadily increasing each since the two countries signed the Free Trade Agreement. Bahrain and the U.S. share several values, including human rights, freedom of speech, respect of religions and cultures, a free market economy, a vivacious civil society, and regular national elections of representatives of the people. They also share a deep commitment to peace, security and stability throughout the globe and this is crucial in a world torn by armed conflicts and mind manipulation that often push some individuals to become ominous agents of extremism, hatred, fanaticism and unjustified violence. As the world stands at a uniquely exceptional moment with numerous crucial issues at stake, Bahrain and the U.S. remain confident about their reliability - and optimistic about the days ahead. Their leaders have clearly stated they looked look forward to the consolidation of their relations across all areas thanks to a greater clarity of purpose and stronger resolve to build on their shared values and common interests.
PR: How does Bahrain contribute to the global humanitarian message, and how do you believe The Kingdom's image should be positioned on the global stage?
ABMAR: When Bahrain was this month voted as the best country for expatriates worldwide, there was elation, of course, among those who are familiar with the kingdom, but there was no surprise. To them, it was a well-deserved ranking. The success story of the kingdom has been going on for decades thanks to numerous historic, geographic, human and economic assets that are given to very few countries.
Throughout its more than seven thousand years of existence, Bahrain has been a harbor for those seeking peace, security and stability. It was even a place that people living hundreds of kilometers away chose for their burial.
Today, the kingdom is also a magnet for those looking for good investment and business opportunities, being a worldwide financial hub with strong regulations and several other perks.
Although it is located in a region that has witnessed several wars and armed conflicts, Bahrain has remained a safe haven for investors and a tolerant, moderate and pragmatic country that with a steady level of progress, development, flexibility, innovation and competitiveness that have earned it several international accolades. The latest accomplishment in its impressively rich record is the announcement by Amazon Web Services on September 25 that it would launch cloud data centers in Bahrain. We are truly proud that Bahrain is thus the first country in the Middle East to embrace the Cloud policy on a government sector level, making it the leading regional center for data in the Middle East and Africa regions. Bahrain has clearly moved successfully beyond the oil age and has asserted itself as the smart island with an ICT-savvy society. That is the image of modern Bahrain and its multitude of success stories and accomplishment feats that the world should know.
PR: How does your considerable past experience benefit you, both personally and professionally, as the custodian of the Information Affairs’ Ministry?
ABMAR: In a world of continuous change, a world that has witnessed impressive advances and huge developments, a world that has become very small thanks to the progress on air travel and in communication technology, media has been playing an increasingly key role in several forms and manifestations.
My first official supervisory tasks in the media occurred when I was appointed as head of Bahrain News Agency. It was a short stint, but it was sufficient to give me invaluable insights into how real media professionals were never satisfied with what they had and how they always wanted to have further details, find a new angle for stories, do a prompt follow-up, and be more productive. Their insatiable curiosity was amazing and it seemed they always felt that their coverage had to be continuously improved. I sympathized with them as I have the same values and yearning to learn more and to help others push their limits to acquire greater and better skills, expand their knowledge and improve their productivity levels.
When I was promoted to general director of Bahrain Radio and Television, I found out that I had yet more to learn and that the work of the news agency was in many ways different from that of radio and television. When I talked with heads of departments and they mentioned technical words or acronyms, I was initially taken aback, but, fortunately, not awed. So, I sat with technicians as they carried out their daily tasks and spent hours with them learning everything there was to learn. To their credit, they opened up a whole new world, and I am grateful for the interesting times I spent with them and for their invaluable lessons that really helped me build a better media character and make my job much easier. By the time I became number two at the ministry, I wanted to build on my personal experience and help every employee go through rigorous and numerous stages to learn more, expand their horizons and produce better results. I knew that it was possible and I was confident they would succeed. With the training programs that we regularly hold, we want the trainees to receive the best guidance and preparation to be highly skilled and successful.