< Libyan Media: Past, Present and Future

Transcript

Friday, August 26, 2011

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

The Libyan media have a lot to learn after four decades of service to the Qaddafi regime. Jamal Dajani is vice president of Middle East and North Africa at Internews, which just released an assessment of Libyan media. Jamal, welcome to the show.

JAMAL DAJANI:

Thank you for having me.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

So your report examines Libyan media’s past, present and future. So start with the past.

JAMAL DAJANI:

During the reign of Muammar Qaddafi Libya has rated as one of the least free countries in the Arab region. There was no such thing as freedom of expression or a free media.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Tunisia and Egyptian media were also notorious for censorship, but you say that they were very different cases, right?

JAMAL DAJANI:

Absolutely. I mean, you cannot compare the media in Libya to a country like Egypt where you had universities, broadcasts schools. So even though you have censorship under the Mubarak regime and in Tunisia under Ben Ali, there was a little bit of wiggle room.

The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, for example, had its own media. Other opposition groups had their own media outlets, even though there were crackdowns.

Under Qaddafi, this was nonexistent. To be a  journalist was a very dangerous profession,  even when you worked for the regime itself, because you never knew when you would cross the red lines. I mean, I've known a journalist who was put in jail for three years because he showed up to a press conference 15 minutes late.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Three years?

JAMAL DAJANI:

Qaddafi decided to change the venue to another location where he flew by helicopter, which takes about 90 minutes to get to the new venue. And this reporter made it 15 minutes late. Not only he lost his job, but he was sentenced to three years.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

And Qaddafi, he was determined to create Year One in Libya: new flag, new national anthem,  changing the name of the country. And then as he proceeded, he didn't want the names of government officials or of sports stars to be cited in the press. Football stars could only be referred to by their numbers and government officials by their titles.

JAMAL DAJANI:

It's really not to outshine him. he did not want people to become more famous or their names to make it in the media. So if you were a superstar, you know, that was too much for him.

And there were so many fine lines in the way the media portrayed Qaddafi, including his many names. You know, at times he was Colonel Qaddafi and then later on he wanted to be addressed by everyone as Brother Leader, Statements he made had to be quoted in a certain way. If a reporter would have made a mistake, there were severe and harsh punishments.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Okay, so in February of this year the uprisings begin. We start to see a proliferation of free media in parts of the country that aren't controlled by Qaddafi. Tell me a little bit about the media that started popping up.

JAMAL DAJANI:

Right. You had, by July, some 120 publications, five radio stations, three to five TV stations. You have Libyans living in Diaspora, and you have doctors, you have engineers. You have students. And they all decided to return and to start forming their own outlets.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

And they all started with this one goal, which was the downfall of Qaddafi. So what happens to revolutionary media when the revolution’s over?

JAMAL DAJANI:

Well, that's the big question. The good news is Libya’s almost a virgin territory for media because Qaddafi left nothing there for anyone to build on, unlike Egypt. I mean, Egypt - we've seen the changes but at the end of the day we've seen a reshuffling of the seats. So many off those who used to pay homage to Mubarak, all of a sudden change their tune like 180 degrees [BROOKE LAUGHS]

overnight, and started to praise the revolution. In Libya you have people who came from outside. You have also the young people who would have never dreamt to become a reporter or a producer, because they knew the price.

And now you can train in new energetic cadre of journalists and have the opportunity to lay the foundation for a free media.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Thank you so much.

JAMAL DAJANI:

Thank you, my pleasure.

[MUSIC UP AND UNDER]

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Jamal Dujani is vice president of Middle East and North Africa for the Internews Network.

[MUSIC]

Here’s a taste of Qaddafi’s infamous We Will Hunt You speech remixed, a viral sensation: This is On the Media.