The field of journalism
witnessed a huge expansion
in Libya since the February 17, 2011 uprising. Under Qaddafi's rule, the media
was tightly controlled. Freedom of expression was censored entirely Today there
are 200 printed newspapers in Tripoli and Benghazi alone, and more than 18
satellite TV channels throughout the country, and the number is only increasing.
However, the industry still has a long way to go before it can become a
reliable source for many Libyans.
It was thus a promising
sign when Libya's post-revolution interim government moved to guarantee in Article
14 of the Constitutional Declaration (Libya's transitional roadmap) the "freedom
of opinion for individuals and groups, freedom of scientific research, freedom
of communication, liberty of press, printing, publication and mass
Libya moves to bring the security situation in the country under control, media
organizations are vulnerable to armed militias that disagree with their
editorial practices. Such concerns were validated when gunmen attacked
the Alassema TV station in Tripoli on March 8. The station's offices were ransacked and a number of employees,
including journalists, were held hostage for nearly24 hours. The attackers were
angered by the TV station's coverage of the new Political Isolation Law, which
would effectively ban Qaddafi-era officials from holding public office.
Despite the huge
expansion in the media sector, the government owns only one satellite channel,
one radio station, and two newspapers. For some, this is a good sign, because
the government doesn't control the media anymore. Others are arguing that the
Libyan media lacks substance, quality, professionalism, and more importantly, regulations. And while there are now many new faces
in Libyan journalism, they lack skills and expertise in the field. There is
thus an urgent need for professional development and training programs for both
individuals and organisations if Libya is to have a culture of responsible
Libyans are also
overwhelmed by the lightening expansion in traditional media outlets (TV, radio,
and print media). However, social media (or new media) seems to have attracted
the lion's share of users in Libya. With a population of only six million,
Libya was the fastest
growing country using Facebook in 2011, and the number of users continues to
grow. Unfortunately, Facebook has also become a rumor-mill: Government officials have had to hold
press conferences or go on radio to negate some of the serious tales that have spread.
According to Mohanned Oun, a student at
Tripoli University, Facebook is the number one source for domestic news for him
and his friends. But due to its now-tarnished reputation for delivering
reliable information, he now usually turns to either TV or radio to confirm stories.
Like many Libyans, Mohanned, is overwhelmed by the plethora of new TV channels available
in post-revolution Libya.
Mohamed Altaip, who works
for the privately owned Lebda
FM radio station, explained that the state-owned media is the least capable of
coping with the changes happening in Libya. This is because the old management
is still in place -- and unable to shake off the Qaddafi-era mentality of running
a pro-government editorial policy.
When thousands of
in the streets of Benghazi on September 21, 2012 to denounce the attack on the
U.S. consulate which killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens,
state TV aired reruns of the cartoon Tom
On the other
hand, privately owned channels and radio stations have improved rapidly in
terms of quality and substance of their programs, and are coping relatively
well with Libya's transition. However, many privately owned stations are also becoming
mouthpieces for certain political parties and groups, and many Libyans are complaining
about the lack of neutrality.
beneficial to have new media, TV stations with ideological agendas are
dangerous for Libya's democratic transition, because they undermine the viewers
and their intelligence by trying to convince them of certain opinions or views
without substantive arguments.
fundamental issue is the absence of a coherent national charter to act as a framework
for media standards. Reda Fhelboom, who works for Libya's International TV
channel, argues that the responsibility is for Libya's media elites to produce
a national charter for journalism that would regulate how the sector operates
(Fhelboom is part of a group working on such a project). The issue is
particularly important because currently, satellite channels and newspapers are
not serving the interests of the public. If the media is not regulated to
operate in an unbiased manner, it could seriously complicate Libya's democratic
The media sector in Libya needs to go beyond the
revolutionary coverage period; it needs to co-ordinate efforts in order to be prepared
to meet the huge challenges ahead, covering the elections, national
reconciliation, and social and political development.
Mohamed Eljarh is the Transitions Libya blogger. Read the rest of his posts here.
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images