After 42 years under the tight grip of Muammar al-Gaddafi, Libya is not only experiencing a political revolution but also a media revolution. The tightly controlled state-run media of the Gaddafi regime allowed no room for free expression or criticism. As the revolution which began in February of 2011 spread across Libya, numerous media outlets emerged including more than 300 dailies and weeklies according to the news website Magharebia. During a trip to Libya late last year, I noticed new newspapers with their first editions on sale at news stands on a weekly basis.
Recently, some articles discussing the status of Libyan media raised some interesting questions about the current situation and its future. Mohamed Eljarh, in an article from Middle East Online, called for the need to institute some form of regulation to deal with the problems present in the current Libyan media environment which include: a lack of professionalism and quality, need for proper education and a frame-work to establish guidelines for the sector. Another article from Magharebia, by Essam Mohamed, quoted a local Libyan journalist as saying that the press is no longer a restricted space but has shifted “to broad horizons that know no boundaries – even to the point of chaos and randomness.” Such critiques are well taken, however, I wonder if these articles may be missing the bigger issue of what is presently at stake in Libya.As evident in the proliferation of media outlets following the start of the revolution, it appears that Libyans are not taking their new-found freedom to express themselves for granted. Eljarh claims that “the majority of the new faces in the sector are young people with no experience, skills or expertise in the field,” which he considers a negative development. However, there are positive aspects to this which he fails to see. It is more critical now than ever that Libyans both young and old continue to express themselves and to exert pressure on the Transitional National Council (TNC) through media and protests in order to ensure their demands are met. Furthermore, such an open media environment creates a more egalitarian space, because any and all Libyans can participate and not only the elite.Leveling such a critique of the unprofessionalism and inexperience against the new Libyan media seems a bit premature. For 42 years, Libyans have been unable to freely establish media outlets nor practice meaningful journalism out from under the government’s watchful eye. The lack of inexperience and professionalism should come as no surprise. Libyans just began their first college semester with a new curriculum late last year after the complete collapse of the Gaddafi government. As such, the nascent Libyan media will take time to mature as Libya’s education system improves and as the various media outlets become more established.The situation in Libya remains chaotic as the TNC works to establish order and security over the entire country, and the uncontrollable growth of media outlets mirror this. When the dust settles, so will the media. Regulation is not the answer to the current journalistic challenges. Libyan outlets face fierce competition from the popular pan-Arab news outlets such as the satellite channels Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya. The responsibility will fall upon the Libyan media outlets and journalists to prove themselves as reliable sources of information, insightful analyses, and innovative programming in the eyes of their audience if they want to remain viable and successful.Links to some Libyan news outlets:
Elizabeth Rghebi holds a Master’s in Middle Eastern, South Asian and African Studies from Columbia University. She graduated from Georgetown University in 2007 with a BA in Government and Arabic. Her academic interests include contemporary Arab politics, especially in the Levant and North Africa, and the role of domestic and international media in Arab societies. She is currently working on her Master’s thesis which will examine the state of journalism in Libya since the fall of Muammar al-Gaddafi’s government in 2011.