To: The Media Development Network with The Communication Initiative
From Anne Reevell - BBC Media Action on Libya's Media Frontline. To respond and critique Anne's perspective or to add your knowledge on this important issue please either reply by email to this note or click Read More below and comment on the platform
Libya's Media Frontline
A month ago I shut the door on the house that has been my home in Tripoli and, with one suitcase, climbed into a convoy with a dozen or so other "internationals" being evacuated from Libya.
I'd been living in this beautiful but chaotic city for a year working with Libya's State TV station, Al Wataniya and the national news agency, LANA. Before the revolution these institutions were at the heart of Muammar Gaddafi's extensive propaganda machine. Now, under new leadership, both were finding their voices.
Like the rest of Libyan society, Al Wataniya has acutely felt the divisions and pressures of the unfolding power struggle. The Director General has been kidnapped twice. A large number of staff simply do not come to work.
Other staff, meanwhile work long hours to bring new public service values to the station's output through two programmes supported by BBC Media Action: Babah Maftouh (The Door is Open), a Libyan version of BBC's The One Show, and a debate show called Hiwar Mushtarak (Joint Conversation) which follows a similar format to the BBC's Question Time and gives members of the public the chance to question their leaders.
As I headed along the road to the border, I was worried about how our Libyan team would survive the coming crisis. In the seven weeks since I left, Facebook has become the lifeline that keeps our team connected, Twitter our news source.
In the early hours of one night in August, my young assistant Nora sent me a message on Facebook from Tripoli.
"Anne, do you know what is happening? I'm scared. The house keeps shaking. I can hear big bangs outside." With no TV news she could trust, she had turned to Facebook and her friends outside for comfort and information.
As the conflict in Libya has intensified, the media has disintegrated. Threats, intimidation as well as full-scale attacks have brought much of Libya’s post-revolutionary media to its knees. When air strikes by unknown jets shook the city, Twitter discussed who might be dropping the bombs but there was no immediate investigation by the Libyan media.
Into this void, the voices of violence, hatred and misinformation are now shouting the loudest. The much-vaunted proliferation of the commercial sector after the Arab Spring is dominated by the ideologies of their owners and sponsors - causing division rather than dialogue.
As civilian casualties have mounted, neither side in the conflict has wanted a wider audience to see the results of its actions. In July, Al Wataniya was taken over by pro-Islamist militia who later issued death threats to reporters at the station who tried to report on the human cost of the conflict.
The Libyan authorities have since succeeded in taking the station off air and efforts are now underway to re-instate it as a public service broadcaster.
This re-assertion of the channel speaks eloquently of the need for public service broadcasting in Libya. Reinstating the channel as a public service broadcaster will help meet a clear need for timely and impartial news not currently being met by the market. Indeed many in the private sector in Libya would argue that providing timely and impartial news is not what they are there for.
For public service broadcasters such a service is the cornerstone of everything we do. For BBC Media Action in Libya, supporting Libyan journalists to act on this and inform Libyans about Libya is now our central focus.
We’re doing this through a training project, funded by the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Due to have begun this month in Tripoli, it will now start on schedule but from Tunis. It’s called, presciently, News for All - and that is who it is aimed at. Everyone, including Nora.