The Future of Libyan Journalism

By Dorothy Parvaz
Al Jazeera Journalist
2009 Nieman Fellow

From a distance, the contribution of citizen journalists in the Arab Spring might seem vague - bloggers and Tweeters...Who are these people? To purists their voices might even seen inconsequential, reduced to the status of dodgy eyewitness reports at best.

But to Libyans and journalists trying to cover their country at the start of the popular uprising, there is no confusion about the role citizen journalists such as Mohammed Nabbous.

A man who put himself in the direct line of fire to show the world what was unfolding there, Nabbous and those who worked with him were the world's window into what was unfolding on the streets.

The Louis Lyons dinner, at which Nabbous was posthumously honored, was a chance for a mixed audience to understand the value of a person – a civilian, if you will – bearing witness in a situation where all forms of traditional media have failed and where the state clearly prefers the cover of silence and darkness. I spoke a few words about the importance of citizen journalism that night, and looking at Nabbous's widow, Samra, and their infant daughter, Maya, wondered what sort of future waited for them back home.

But things are looking better for Libya already.

Just days after returning to Doha, where I am based, I heard that Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC) was here to discuss the future of journalism in Libya, a country which could hardly be said to have much of a journalism past.

For two days, NTC members met with journalists and media experts at a conference organized by Northwestern University in Qatar. Key players in Libya's future, members of NTC discussed best practices and talked about the groundwork for a free and functioning media in their country, one that works as a watchdog rather than being under government control.

I caught the end of the conference, when Abdulfeedah Ghogha, vice chairman of the NTC, rattled off a numbered list of how the group would like to see Libya’s media take shape: Free and independent, with a focus on watchdog work. He emphasized the importance of journalism training and education, legal protections for the media.

I asked him a couple of questions about whether the government planned on only allowing licensed journalists to work in Libya (a common practice) and if watching the crackdowns on the press not only in his own country and in the region had provided the NTC with lessons on how to grant new protection to the fragile, new enterprise of journalism there.

Ghogha's answers were unequivocal: There would be no permits, there would be no crackdowns, he said. Ghogha also credited the "brave young men and women of Libya" for their work in reporting what was happening at a time when foreign press was not allowed in the country and the state media served as a government mouthpiece.

Of course, this is still the beginning of a long journey for Libyan media and a conference is just mostly talk. A free media sounds good in theory, but is an entirely different matter when reporters starts to ask the sorts of question no politician likes to hear. However, if the NTC manages to follow through with even half of its stated objectives for Libyan media, then there's a hope that what they're creating there might even be a model for the region.