State of the media

William A. Rugh, Arab Mass Media (2004), characterizes the Libyan press as a mobilization press, meaning that Libyan media do not criticize the basic policies of the national government, especially foreign policies and domestic policy. Aside from foreign satellite television stations and the Internet, the regime controls the media and there are no independent press outlets. Written press Three of the four leading daily newspapers, Al Jamahiria, Al Shams and Al Fajr al Jadeed, are funded through the General Press Corporation that is linked to the Ministry of Information. Al-Fajr al-Jadeed also publishes an English edition. All four of these newspapers are located in the same Press Building in Tripoli. A fifth newspaper, Az-Zahf al-Akhdar, is controlled by the Movement of the Revolutionary Committees, the central ideological organ of the state. Each Libyan province also has a newspaper, either on a weekly or monthly basis. There is no privately owned press. Circulation rates are low and newspapers are difficult to obtain. Audiovisual media The broadcast media are controlled by the Libyan Jamahiriya Broadcasting Cooperation since 1968. The Cooperation runs one national terrestrial TV station, Jamahiriyah TV and six satellite stations. A number of provinces operate local television stations. The Cooperation furthermore operates one national radio station, local stations in major cities and an international radio service. Foreign satellite stations, such as al-Jazeera and al-Arabiyya, provide the only sources of uncensored news and are widely viewed by Libyans. The Qaddafi Foundation for Development has launched a new satellite station, Al-Libiya, in August 2007. This is the first ‘privately owned’ satellite station, as it is owned by Qaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam. Online media Internet in Libya started in 1998 and the amount of internet users has grown rapidly since then; up to one million people now access the internet, mostly through Internet cafes due to the lack of landlines. The state-owned Libya Telecom and Technology Company has a monopoly over both telecom and internet services. The influential son of the Libyan President, Saif al-Islam, holds many key positions in the telecom sector: he is chairman of the Libya Telecom and Technology Company, the Libyana Mobile Phone Company, and the General Post and Telecommunication Company. Many Libyan journalists use the internet to express critical views on the Libyan government. Many opposition organizations based abroad have created websites that are important platforms for criticism of the Libyan government. Until recently the government routinely blocked these websites, but according to a recent report by Reporters without Borders “there are absolutely no restrictions on using Libya’s public Internet access points,” and they were able to access “the websites of international human rights and press freedom groups and Libyan opposition groups.” However, the activities of internet users still are closely monitored. News agencies The only news agency in Libya, the Jamahiriya News Agency, is controlled by the government. It is the main provider of (international) news for Libyan media. Media organizations Due to legal restrictions on the establishment of professional organizations there are no really independent organizations. Libya’s Union of Journalists is controlled by the government. Libya has two human rights groups, of which the human rights program at the Qaddafi Foundation for Development, run by Qaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam, is the most important. The Foundation is critical of the government and Saif al-Islam also criticized the lack of free press. See their website here. Media policies The Libyan Constitution guarantees freedom of expression but “within the limits of public interest and the principles of the revolution,” and privately owned media are forbidden. The 1972 media law is repressive and provides for prison sentences ranging from one month to two years for offences such as “doubting the aims of the revolution.” Media developments and trends Since the lifting of an 11-year old UN embargo in September 2003 the Libyan regime seems to have “relaxed” its tight control of society slightly. Several international organizations, such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the aforementioned Reporters Without Borders were allowed to enter the country for fact finding missions. In the field of the media this “relaxation” resulted in the lifting of restrictions on internet access and the release of some political prisoners. In 2003 the son of Qaddafi, Saif al-Islam, publicly called for the creation of independent press. According to Reporters without Borders a commission of experts and journalists was currently working on new press legislation. Most observers, however, remain skeptical that the recent opening will fundamentally change the tight grip of the regime on society.