By Huda Biuk
It’s a wonder how Libyan journalists persisted in their careers in the past under the Gaddafi regime that coerced and manipulated the media into participating in its propaganda. However, the pressure journalists received from the government was not the only pressure they had to put up with.
Journalists and their families were often threatened into writing for Gaddafi if they didn’t already, and were beaten and tortured if they challenged the paralysing system. When Daif al-Ghazal, a member of Gaddafi’s Revolutionary Committee, wrote articles criticizing Gaddafi and his regime, he was held hostage by the Committee, tortured and killed after his fingers were cut off.
For decades, the regime used the media for nothing more than to promote the late dictator and his family. As a result, journalism as a career was stigmatized by the Libyan general public as it was automatically associated with the regime. There was no free and independent press, and television and radio were state-owned. No media source was considered completely independent, and no working journalist neutral.
Journalism was neither popular nor a well-respected profession, and because of the manipulation it experienced, aspiring journalists did not receive adequate education in the ethics and standards of journalism. One of the significant principles of journalistic professionalism is objectivity. This was not possible in Gaddafi’s Libya where the media was often embellished with cover-up stories, and the international news heavily censored.
According to a report by Global Post on Mar. 18, “The former regime’s repression left little chance for most journalists to develop core skills.” Censorship is no longer the main problem of the Libyan media; although Internews, an international media development organisation, has shown concern that there is “public pressure” to omit information that may be seen as “against the revolution.” What is lacking now is training and management.
The regime did not allow opinions contradicting to its own ideologies be published. It depended on the media to portray a positive and fabricated satisfaction of the people with the government. For years, the media was used to convince the Libyan people that Gaddafi was loved, and that if anyone felt differently, they were alone and powerless to change anything.
Few well-known and talented journalists were able to navigate their talents around the manipulated system. Names like Ameen Mazen, Idris Ibn Al-Tayeb, and Mohamed Al-Mufti became known for treading the dangerous line of objectivity.
They often depended on the duality in meaning of a given word to satisfy the demands enforced on them but intended to leave room for the free thoughts of the reader to flow. And, their avoiding of government reprisal in this way, while staying true to their morals helped them build skills of neutral reporting that weren’t taught to them in the conventional classroom.
Some journalists wrote under a pen name for the media of Libya’s Opposition abroad. While others focused on Libyan social issues to avoid the political realm of propaganda.
There is no doubt that every journalist who did not choose his or her career out of their love for Gaddafi was deeply affected by the collective, negative view of the profession.
It was not until last year’s popular uprising, when journalism played an integral role in revealing to the world the atrocities being committed by the Gaddafi’s regime against protestors that Libyans began to appreciate the significance of journalism in the free world.
Libyans were aspiring for freedom, and the appearance of international media during the 2011 conflict not only provided support for that dream but also began to reverse four decades of brainwashing done by Gaddafi’s propaganda.
Over one year after the start of the Libyan revolution now, the question is whether it was enough? Did the role of journalism last year succeed in fully convincing Libyans they could trust the Libyan media and its emerging journalists? Or, has the recent rush in free press brought with it enough baggage of amateur reporting to lose its chance at respect by the people?
Perhaps, it is too early to answer these important questions on a general level. However, I can offer my personal experience of having expressed my aspirations as a writer to Libyans in Libya prior to last year’s revolution, and almost always, I was advised to look for another career path.
In post-Gaddafi Libya the reactions I receive are words of encouragement. As a participant in Libya’s emerging media, I like to believe this is telling of the people’s confidence in the growth of Libya’s free press.
Source: Tripoli Post