The network is seriously compromising its journalism in the Gulf states by blurring the line between advertising and editorial.
Today I reported on the refusal of CNN International (CNNi) to broadcast an award-winning documentary, “iRevolution”, that was produced in early 2011 as the Arab Spring engulfed the region and which was highly critical of the regime in Bahrain. The documentary, featuring CNN's on-air correspondent Amber Lyon, viscerally documented the brutality and violence the regime was using against its own citizens who were peacefully protesting for democracy. Commenting on why the documentary did not air on CNNi, CNN's spokesman cited “purely editorial reasons”.
Even so, the network’s relationships with governments must bear closer examination. CNNi has aggressively pursued a business strategy of extensive, multifaceted financial arrangements between the network and several of the most repressive regimes around the world which the network purports to cover. Its financial dealings with Bahrain are deep and longstanding.
CNNi’s pursuit of and reliance on revenue from Middle East regimes increased significantly after the 2008 financial crisis, which caused the network to suffer significant losses in corporate sponsorships. It thus pursued all-new, journalistically dubious ways to earn revenue from governments around the world. Bahrain has been one of the most aggressive government exploiters of the opportunities presented by CNNi.
These arrangements extend far beyond standard sponsorship agreements for advertising of the type most major media outlets feature. CNNi produces those programs in an arrangement it describes as “in association with” the government of a country, and offers regimes the ability to pay for specific programs about their country. These programs are then featured as part of CNNi’s so-called “Eye on” series (“Eye on Georgia”, “Eye on the Phillipines”, “Eye on Poland”), or “Marketplace Middle East”, all of which is designed to tout the positive economic, social and political features of that country.