Free For The First Time In Decades, Libyan Media Struggles To Define Itself

The following article from techdirt includes quotes from Jamal Dajani, Internews VP for the Middle East and North Africa, about media in Libya.

The Arab Spring sparked plenty of discussion about the roles that social media, mobile devices and other technologies can play in toppling oppressive regimes. But there's another aspect to events in the Middle East that should prove enlightening to those interested in the role of media: what happens afterwards? In Libya, there is suddenly press freedom after 42 years of censorship and government control, and it has led to the appearance of countless new newspapers, websites and TV and radio stations, all working to build a journalistic landscape essentially from scratch. As an article in Global Post reveals, the result is understandably somewhat chaotic:

"We are yet to see even semi-professional reporting," said Jamal Dajani, the regional vice president for Internews, an international media development organization." TV reports are dominated by unfocused footage and "amateur standups," he says. "There are no standards on presentation. Long reportage and news packages are jumbled together like a mixed cocktail."

I find that comment interesting because it echoes some of the criticisms leveled at blogs and online media in the western world. The key difference is that while amateur journalism here has been able to draw upon the resources of traditional media as it develops, in Libya there is no such support structure:

A year ago, Libya's entire newspaper industry consisted of only six government-run papers. Television and radio were completely state-owned and international news was heavily censored. Dajani described it as a "one-man media" operation designed to promote former leader Muammar Gaddafi and his family.

[...]

The former regime's repression left little chance for most journalists to develop core skills. Even those considered professionals did not have the chance to work in any real capacity as journalists.

As Dajani put it, trained Libyan reporters have been "paralyzed" for the past four decades and in the eyes of the new generation they now have "zero credibility." The new landscape has emerged largely through the efforts of unskilled but enthusiastic amateurs.

It's too early to know what will emerge from the post-revolution chaos, but the big question is whether the press will establish its independence—which isn't guaranteed just because the government was toppled:

While government censorship has been almost nonexistent under the new system, Internews has expressed concern about "self censorship" and "public pressure" to omit information that may be deemed "against the revolution."

[...]

At the outset of the revolution, free and fair media was a major demand. Unsurprisingly, the media that emerged in the rebel territories took on the identity of the revolution, promoting those devoted to the cause.

As the new government and constitution begin to take shape, Libya's media has failed to shift from advocacy to neutrality.

I think "neutrality" is a dangerous term when it comes to the media, because too much emphasis on remaining neutral leads to sterile he-said-she-said journalism, where reporters don't feel the need to judge the veracity of opposing positions as long as they give them equal airtime. I prefer the standards of transparency, fairness and accuracy: having an opinion is okay, as long as you are upfront about it and open to changing it, and as long as you don't intentionally ignore facts that conflict with it. But this is the good thing about having an open landscape with a wide array of voices: these standards are naturally encouraged, because when one source violates them, others are quick to call them out. As Libyans' focus shifts to the upcoming election, it's likely that the self-censorship will decrease, and the fierce competition in the media will begin to improve the quality throughout.

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