Media institutions across Libya are being accused by its citizens of being unprofessional, having double standards and inciting hatred amongst warring factions in Libya. At the same time, they have come under attack by armed groups who have stormed and looted their editorial offices and kidnapped their employees under different pretexts. Even the technicians working in media outlets have not been spared kidnapping and threats.

Media institutions across Libya are being accused by its citizens of being unprofessional, having double standards and inciting hatred amongst warring factions in Libya. At the same time, they have come under attack by armed groups who have stormed and looted their editorial offices and kidnapped their employees under different pretexts. Even the technicians working in media outlets have not been spared kidnapping and threats.

With the outbreak of the civil war and the presence of two governments and two parliaments in the east and west of the country, political movements will likely benefit from the freedom of the press to further their agendas.

In this environment, the first and biggest challenge faced by journalists is security. Journalists are often forced to practice self-censorship to avoid the threats that vary in form and scope, such as phone calls from unknown persons, threats on Facebook, and physical violence in the form of kidnapping, destruction or confiscation of equipment, attacks on media organizations, the burning and destruction of personal homes as well as the risk of assassinations.

Dawn and dignity

The situation escalated with the formation of  Operation Dignity (May 16, 2014) in the eastern part of the country and Operation Dawn in its western part. It was then that the media witnessed a significant change, especially in Tripoli and Benghazi, where a number of satellite stations were stormed, their offices closed, their core offices re-vamped and a number of their employees resigned.

In Tripoli, the al-Asima (Capital) Channel was stormed and it is still closed today.  The al-Dawliya (The International) Channel was also stormed, but it is now broadcasting with a different media cadre. In addition, Radio Libya FM was attacked and the Libya TV building was closed.

As for other private channels in the capital city, such as al-Nabaa (The News), Tobacts, Vezzan, Libya One, al-Muntada (The Forum), and Libya Likul al-Ahrar (Libya for all Fee People), they are still working but they have witnessed huge changes in their centers, especially those present in the western part of the country, after being accused of bias in covering news events.

Many of the editors of the al-Nabaa and Libya Likul al-Ahrar resigned—some of them resigned on air or on Facebook—and they accused their channels of the absence of professionalism. Some of them did so after they were pressured to resign in their cities which support Operation Dignity. 

After the Libya Dawn Operation, new channels such as the February Channel, Libya Panorama, Zintan Channel, “Tribes” Channel and Libya 24 Channel emerged.  However, there is no information about the owners of these channels, their political affiliations, or their headquarters and offices.

In Benghazi, there is no media organization working at the present time due to the ongoing war in the city and its suburbs. Institutions that oppose the Operation Dignity, and which are affiliated with the political Islamic stream, such as al-Ayn (The Eye) Institution, which owns the Ajwaa al-Bilad radio and website, were closed by the army. Moreover, the Free Libya TV station was raided and sabotaged by armed men. 

In cities in the east of Libya, where Operation Dignity has its popular support, Ajwaa al-Bilad Radio was closed in al-Bayda and Tobruk by the two municipalities’ councils after pressures exerted by civil society organizations and some activists in the two cities.

Newspapers and radios

As for the print media, the printing of all newspapers in Tripoli has stopped as of the beginning of July, 2014 because of the strike launched by the employees of the printing shops who are protesting their living and employment conditions. With the start of the war in Tripoli, a number of newspapers, which were issued in Benghazi, were confiscated and with the threats sent to these newspapers, the publishing of all printed ones has stopped until further notice.

The Commission for Support and Encouragement of the Press in Tripoli was closed for some time, but the government of Omar Hassi appointed a new director for the agency who started his job by warning journalists that their salaries would be suspended if they did not go back to work, despite the fact that printing shops are not working.

Local radio stations have also been affected by the on-going civil war in the country, with some having been raided and closed. A number of radio stations such as al-Shorouq, al-Jawhara, Radio Zone and Tribulitana, were forced to stop all of their political programs and those related to current affairs, including their daily news bulletins and to broadcast other programmes that have no political, ideological or regional nature.

In some cities, the broadcasting of international radio stations such as Radio Sawa, Arabic BBC and al-An (Now) Radio, was interrupted and the reason is still unknown.

Public channels

With the clear political and regional political polarization that has surfaced in state-owned channels in this conflict (not to mention their role in inciting the conflict), the elected parliament issued an order to close all state owned TV satellite stations such as Libya al-Wataniya (Patriotic Libya), al-Rasmiya (The Official) and the al-Riyadiyah (The Sports Channel). It also instructed the interim government to establish a national channel.

In response, the al-Wataniya Channel in Tobruk was re-established in al-Bayda to broadcast under the same previous logo and frequencies. But technical problems, confusion in administration and in coordination has forced them to suspend their broadcasting from time to time—this interruption has become normal.

As for the issue of licenses, a special committee has been established, based at the Ministry of Communications in December 2012 to supervise the distribution of radio frequencies across the country and to issue licenses. As for other media outlets, such as television channels, newspapers and websites, there is no specialized committee tasked with the issuance of licenses and no classification or documentation of media professionals in Libya at the moment.

Ambiguous sources of funding

On May 2, 2012, the Transitional Council issued Law No. 29 of 2012 regarding the organization of political parties. Article 28 of the law says any party has the right to have its own media outlets to express its views and stances and to achieve its objectives in accordance with constitutional principles and the legislation in force. It also has the right to have a share equal to that of all other parties, in the use of the society-owned media outlets. Executive regulations shall specify the rules organizing this matter.

However, the lack of clarity by some major parties on the affiliation of their private media or those with whom they have relations with their owners, have made this issue more confusing for many observers in the Libyan media scene.

While many observers consider Libya al-Huraa, Libya TV, Ajyal Libya, Misrata Channel, with its electronic site, printed newspaper and radio station, the al-Tadamun News Agency, and Ajwaa al-Bilad, to media wings of the Muslim Brotherhood Justice and Construction Party, they also consider that al-Asima and al-Dawliya channels are the media wings of the National Forces Alliance, and Libya First of the Federalists. As for the Dignity channel, they believe that its name clearly indicates that it supports Operation Dignity. 

However, only a small number of the leaders of these entities and parties have revealed some of the ambiguity about the relationship between these institutions and political parties such as Mahmoud Jibril, the head of the National Forces Alliance, who said that “Libya International Channel is owned by individuals, some of them are members of the alliance while others are from among its supporters.”

Abdelhakim Belhadj, the leader of the National Party, denied any relationship to the al-Nabaa channel affiliated with the Islamic movement, although its former chief executive was a member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group and a close friend of Belhadj. The head of the board of directors of the Libya al-Hurra Channel denied any affiliation to the channel with the Muslim Brotherhood although he is a member of this group. As for the al-Asima Channel, it is owned by a businessman who is close to the National Forces Alliance.

As for channels administrated or owned by businessmen who are not affiliated with a particular political party, there is ambiguity too related to funding and to the names of owners of these channels.  For example, the former head of the board of directors of Libya Likul al-Ahrar Channel, Mahmoud Shammam, had previously confirmed that Qatar supports the channel financially. However, there is still ambiguity on Ajyal, Tobacts Libya One, Libya First, The Forum, Libya TV and Vezan Channel.  Moreover, there is lots of confusion in the state owned al-Watanya, al-Rasmiya and Misrata channels regarding their budget expenditures.    

While the law organizing political parties has given parties the right to equal shares in the use of the society’s owned media outlets, these outlets haven’t given these parties equal chances as stipulated in the law, which is why some parties have chosen to have their own outlets.