Gaddafi’s regime nationalised all publishing and press organisations, no private press was allowed to operate in the country for over 25 years. This had a major effect on the press and publishing industry, and the consequences of this are still very apparent.
The regime had a number of daily and weekly newspapers, including the three major national newspapers available: Al Jamahiriya (The People's Republic), Al Fajr Al Jadid (New Dawn), Al Zahf Al Akhdar (Green March), and Al Shames (The Sun). They were published and circulated with an estimate of around 10,000 copies a day. Also there were a few very popular local and regional dailies, such as Akhbar Benghazi (Benghazi News) in Benghazi, Akhbar Tobrouk (Tobrouk News) and many others.
Newspapers were mostly sold in major cities such as Tripoli, Benghazi, Misrata, Bayda and Tobruk. These newspapers had very little difference in headlines and content as they focused only on government activities. Content was controlled and formulated to become a propaganda tool delivering the official line for imposing certain ideologies, controlling the public opinion and for public mobilisation to gain popular support for the regime’s political views.
There were no monthly subscription fees, but the newspapers were sold at newsstands and at traffic lights for very small fee of around LYD0.25 each (approx US$0.10), which was less than the printing costs, as staff were employed by the government and the printing costs were subsidised. In fact, Libyans bought the paper not so much for the front page or the political news (which revolved around the regime and its achievements) but for the sports section or mainly for the obituaries page, as it was customary to go pay condolences for acquaintances at funerals. Locals preferred local dailies over the national newspapers.
According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, in 2015 the overall literacy rate in Libya was 91 percent, with a literacy rate of approx 97 percent for men and around 86 percent for women. Despite the high starting point, the readership levels dropped due to poor quality of press and books, which were only published by the state. The regime had restrictive censorship policies regarding content of books and newspapers, especially imported ones. The authorities viewed books on capitalism and other political systems as clashing with Gaddafi’s Green Book, and branded such material as Alghzw Althqafy (cultural invasion).
Publishing was fully dependent on state subsidies and the advertisement and sales didn't amount to much. Journalists and editors were appointed by the government, ensuring their loyalty. Content was heavily monitored by the security apparatus. Some journalists had close ties with the security institutions, and often reported on fellow journalists. This led to self-censorship and directly affected the quality, which led to lack of interest and lack of trust from the general public as these journalists were viewed unfavourably. This in turn made the press dependent on the state. Many of these patterns are repeated today, because journalists and the general public still don't understand the important role and responsibilities of independent media.
Following the uprising and the ousting of the Gaddafi regime, numerous publications emerged across the country, but very few managed to survive past the first year of transition. Many other shut down after the 2014 civil war. These publications were faced with many challenges, from sustainable financing models to viable distribution networks.
In the years following the 2011 uprising, print became the most diverse of Libya's media in terms of content and audience. Prior to the 2014 civil war, however, the penetration rate of the print press had become very limited and a small percentage of the population (less than 11 percent) had access to daily newspapers. Less than 5 percent of Libyans read newspapers on a daily basis, despite the fact that more than 80 percent of the population lives in urban areas mostly towards the northern coastlines on the Mediterranean Sea which make up less than 20 percent of the country’s territory (UN DESA, 2018). This is due to the decline in the security situation which has led to hazards of distribution. Other citizens prefer online news platforms and television as their content is more tailored to their political views and inclination. There is obviously a great emphasis on the national political development process, which is top priority for citizens as they are directly affected by the political and security developments in the country. But people from ethnic groups based in rural areas perceive publications as a medium for promoting their own local cultures, for example in Sabha and Zwarah 25 percent of newspaper readers expressed a preference for cultural articles on poetry, history and so on, compared with 18 percent at a national level. This is because Zwarah has a unique heritage as the population of the city is predominately Amazigh Berber and speaks a local dialect which differs greatly from other Berber languages in Libya and other parts of North Africa. Similarly, in parts of the South including Sabha, there is a large concentration of Taurga and Tabu people who have their own unique languages and heritage. These minorities were largely neglected and purposely oppressed by the former regime, who never publicly recognised their languages and forbade them from officially being taught. After the ousting of the regime, these minorities are back in the light and they practice their heritage and teach and speak their language freely.
The majority of Libyans across the country wish to receive less politicised, more localised and unbiased news. Objective political analysis articles were also highly desired according to survey conducted in 2013 by Altai Consultancy, which shows the interest for the public to understand the current issues and affairs affecting their lives. The newspapers circulated in Tripoli (mainly Febrayr) and Benghazi (mainly Qureyna Al Jadeedah) are consumed by readers of both genders above the age of 40. Another newspaper in Misrata, Wifaq, which has a more modern style and praises the city's armed groups that fought both the Gaddafi regime and later against Islamic State (IS), targets younger male readers in their 20s and 30s. Interestingly, and in contrast to the prevailing national trend, the weekly newspaper Wifaq, which describes itself as ‘youth-focused, national and informational’ started as a Facebook page and now prints more than 3000 copies per week in Misrata. The Facebook page still exists.
Febrayr was published daily by the Libyan Press Board. But just like all Libya Press Board newspapers and other media, it stopped publishing for lack of funding and due to bad management and corruption as well as internal struggles. The newspaper was sold at LYD0.5 per copy and was the most popular governmental newspaper in Libya. It has not evolved much in terms of editorial content since 2011, and mainly consists of national news (the first two pages), with some international news related to Libya, followed by cultural, social and sports pages and occasionally, an arts and entertainment section. As for advertising, the newspaper displays eight full pages of ads (government and private) which tripled since 2012, when there were only three.
Private newspapers Qureyna Al Jadeedah is a former government-funded paper created in 2007 by Al Ghad Media Group, a group created by Saif Al-Islam Ghadafi before 2011. The newspaper was privatised and re-launched in 2012, now under the leadership of journalist Fathi Youni Alkhashmi and based in Benghazi. Qureyena Al Jadeedah was one of the leading newspapers published in Libya for coverage and number of readers. The newspaper, which is now available only online, covers political news, entertainment, jobs, travel, sports, economy, culture, business and foreign press.
The independent newspaper AlWasat is a very influential, modern and professional media outlet, founded by former Minister of Information Mahmoud Shammam after he left the Libya Alahrar TV channel in Doha. It covers a wide range of news topics and it even publishes in English, with correspondents spread across the country, providing one of the best coverage of Libya's news today. It had started as a radio station but was later taken off air. It was also censored online and is currently banned from distributing hard copies.
In addition, Benghazi-based newspaper Burniq, was published three times a week until its editor in-chief Miftah Bouzeid was assassinated in 2014, apparently due to his criticism of extremist groups including Ansar al-Sharia. Several media personnel in Benghazi were targeted by such groups.