The Libyan media landscape: a creative chaos?

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Monitoring Libya’s post-revolution media landscape has proved to be a nightmare. Even officials directly responsible for the issue seem unable to evaluate or keep up with the pace of developments, so much so that they apologised to RNW for not being able to answer many questions.

RNW Arab desk

Libyan media were the subject of the most recent edition of “Eyes on Libya,” a monthly programme produced by RNW’s Arab desk in cooperation with partners from the Libyan radio community. Radio Free Libya, based in the city of Misurata, was the partner for this episode.

Dozens of local and satellite channels, numerous radio stations and hundreds of print and online media outlets sprang up in Libya after the revolution. Libyan journalist Omar al-Kaddi characterises this phenomenon as an explosion of media not witnessed in Libya before and, despite its chaotic nature, one of the “gains of the revolution”. The downside, he says, is that much of it remains far from professional and is very ideologically slanted.

Tariq al-Qazizi, also a Libyan journalist, believes Libya is going through a series of unique developments, not matched by any of the other countries to witness an ‘Arab Spring’. “Institutions in Libya were absent in the first place, and the media was monopolised by the regime,” he says. Al-Qazizi adds that Libyan journalists have not yet been able to fully reap the benefits of this newly opened up space, overshadowed as it is by the randomness of the current situation.

Natural chaos
The haphazardness that currently governs the Libyan media landscape is “natural after the fall of a dictatorial regime that previously monopolised the media,” according to journalist Abdullah al-Kabir. He warns that this chaos might lead to huge mistakes that will adversely affect the credibility of news, especially in the absence of professionalism and a legal framework regulating the media.

Misurta university professor Mahmoud Maloudah is concerned Libyans will return to following official media only. “We need years to get used to the new media climate. We create the crisis ourselves, we lie and believe the lie,” he says.

Maloudah adds that Libyan media has unintentionally been entrenched in ideology and that many media channels are little more than contractors carrying out their owners’ orders.

Freedom and self-censorship
As those in the field testify, Libyan media is not free yet, despite the absence of official censorship. The reason is journalists’ self-censorship, a necessity given the current security vacuum in Libya. Furthermore, government officials have not yet reached a level of awareness that allows for criticism. This became clear when members of the National Congress complainted that al-Kaddi and, the famous Libyan caricaturist “Al Satur” (Arabic for “cleaver”) were making them the object of ridicule. Commenting on this, Abdullah al-Kabir said the artist’s presence is a milestone in the history of Libya.

Security challenges
Libyan media staff face serious security challenges, the storming of the “Capital” channel by militias being only the most recent incident. To Al-Kabir, this incident remains a mystery. He does not rule out fabrication and raises questions around the identity of the perpetrators, and why no investigation has been launched. As much as al-Kabir condemns the attack, he stresses the necessity of objective media.
Libyan media staff are currently trying to draw attention to the difficult position they are in by refusing to print or broadcast. However, Maloudah believes that these intellectuals and the elite hold illusions if they think these methods will work, for the public will not miss their presence.

A creative chaos
Libya is currently going through a transitional period, one that came after a dictatorship that suspended freedoms for over 40 years. The country therefore needs an extended period of time to create a form of stability. Opinions do not vary much regarding this, as journalist Shaalan Sharif concurs. The chaos that dominates the transitional period, as he puts it, is a chaos that is conducive to creativity.