Media in Libya and Targeting Journalists

By Iqbal Tamimi

Since the People’s Revolution broke out in Libya on February 17th, at least 15 cases of journalists’ arrests and four attacks on journalists were reported, besides two attacks against media outlets and the brutal assassination of two journalists.


One of the Egyptian reporters working in Libya, advised other journalists during a television interview not to reveal their identities, and not to mention that they were journalists for their own safety. He even suggested that journalists should not carry their journalists’ identity cards, just in case they were searched. Obviously such advice reflect fears of targeting journalists in Libya, but such advice might not help, since it is extremely difficult for journalists to hide their professional filming equipments which flag them anywhere. The International Institute for the safety of media professionals, issued an alert highlighting obstacles facing journalists, including detaining them at checkpoints and the destruction of equipments in their possession.

AlJazera journalists who went missing in Libya. From right to left:

(Ahmad Fal Weldideen, Kamel Attaloo’a, Ammar AlHamdan and Lutfi Almasudi. (Photo AlJazera)

Since the People’s Revolution broke out in Libya, a number of journalists belonging to various media organizations went missing. Those I know of where: the Guardian correspondent, Ghaith Abdul-Ahad who was detained for a fortnight; journalist Atef al-Atrash who disappeared shortly after an interview with AlJazeera TV channel from Benghazi; the Blogger and political writer Mohammed Al Suhaim; the Cartoonist Muhammad al-Amin; writer and former editor of “Arajen” monthly cultural magazine,  Idris Mismar;  and the Four New York Times journalists, Anthony Shadid, Stephen Farrell, Tyler Hicks and Lynsey Addario, who were  released after six days in detention.

This combination made from photos provided by the New York Times and an Associated Press file photo shows New York Times journalists, from left, photographer Lynsey Addario, reporter Stephen Farrell, photographer Tyler Hicks, and Beirut bureau chief Anthony Shadid. The four journalists covering the fighting in Libya were reported missing Wednesday, March 16, 2011, (AP Photo/ New York Times/Associated Press)


Women journalists were not spared. The President of the Libyan Journalists’ Union, Salima El Sheab, and the reporter for the pro-government newspaper ‘Al Jamaheriyah’, Suad Trabelsi, both went missing too.

The last of a series of targeting journalists was abducting four journalists working for AlJazeera television channel, those are, Ahmad Fal Weldideen, Kamel Attaloo’a, Ammar AlHamdan and Lutfi Almasudi.

Since the uprising in Libya, two journalists were killed. The first was AlJazera Channel Cameraman, Ali Hassan Al Jaber. He was murdered on the 13 March 2011 while returning to the eastern city of Benghazi after filing a report. Then the 28 years old Libyan blogger Mohammed Nabbous was assassinated by a Gaddafist sniper in Benghazi. Nabbous established Libya Alhurra TV (Free Libya), using a satellite connection to get out from under the Gaddafi regime’s internet short circuitry. His “TV station” relied on nine cameras, streaming 24 hours a day, non-stop.

Libyan blogger Mohammed Nabbous who was assassinated by a Gaddafist sniper in Benghazi. Nabbous established Libya Alhurra TV (Free Libya).

In the midst of all the misery and the journalist’s worries about themselves and their colleagues in Libya, humorous accounts are still reported and circulated online, about incidents documenting how the under skilled Libyan media journalists dealt with reporting about the revolution. One of such examples was published on the online version of the opposition Egyptian newspaper, Alwafd, on Monday, March, 21, 2011. Alwafd shared with its audiences a recorded video of a Libyan television program that demonstrates the lack of experience, naivety and humble education of Libyan broadcasters appointed by Moammar Gaddafi’s system. In the video, a female Libyan television presenter took the liberty of becoming a ‘Sheikh’ when she issued a Fatwa on air. Saying that:

‘Since adoption in Islam is almost ‘Haram’ or prohibited, hence, the ‘adoption’ of the UN resolution to attack Libya is also Haram’.   

The female Libyan broadcaster that issued a Fatwa about the UN resolution


The Libyan female presenter misunderstood the ‘adoption’ term used usually for adoption of children, and used it as a general calibre to create a new Fatwa, building her argument on the similarity of the dictation and pronunciation of the two words.  For those who understand Arabic language, they can watch her Fatwa on the following link:

Such churnalism is a good example of the amount of suffering the Libyans endured since they do not enjoy a media that can offer them the minimum standards of professionalism. The Libyans have also suffered media censorship and the state’s lack of interest in investing in the communications sectors.

From my previous experience while working as an Interview Producer for a news channel in the Middle East, I know how difficult it is to contact any guest speaker in Libya. The attempt to phone someone in Libya was almost an impossible mission, because the communication system was the worst in the Middle East, even though Libya is one of the wealthiest Arab countries. There were hardly any official speakers or Ministers who can be contacted for an interview. Only Qaddafi and his sons used to comment sometimes. We used to resort to Libyans in the Diaspora or in exile to participate in any discussion that involves sharing a perspective concerning Libyans. It was more convenient to call someone in London or Paris than calling Tripoli, since even if we found the people who are willing to say anything at all, the guests used to request some time because they had to request a permission from the authorities to participate in an interview. In the best of circumstances, the approval, used to take something like three days, which is unacceptable in today’s news providing establishments ‘pressures due to the competitive nature of the news production market, especially when there is a need to get an immediate comment on some current affairs incident.

I have attended tens of media conferences in the Middle East; there were always participants of almost every Arab state except Libya. It seems that after dismantling most of the state’s institutions, there is chaos and a wide gap of communication between the departments that are supposed to facilitate active involvement and participation with the International community, leaving the Libyans isolated, deprived from contributing to other nations’ dialogues.

The pressures and obstacles facing educated Libyans, forced a high percentage to leave their home country. The Libyan writer Dr. Gaballah Musa Hassan, published an article on (Libya our homeland), on the 9 May, 2006 discussing physical torture in Libya. He claims that, thousands of Libyans were forced to leave their home country due to stalking, abuse, systematic killing and gross violations of human right, forcing more than one hundred thousand Libyans to leave their country between 1976 and 2006, especially after the gallows of the seventh of April and the systematic killing of university students in the seventies. He claims some had to leave their country by force others left voluntarily and many left Libya as part of official delegations and preferred to stay in exile and not to return to their homeland. The last point might explain the state’s policies of discouraging journalists’ delegations’ participation outside the Libyan borders.



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