Journalists associations

Discussions about reorganising the media sector were and still are happening within government offices, and are still focused on establishing a high authority to govern and oversee the sector in lieu of a Ministry of Information with executive powers. Supporters of this idea believe that nominating a Minister for Information will lead to the return of a hegemonic government with strong implications for independent media. This would create situation favourable to officials who want to tightly control media just like the old days.

A group of 1,000 journalists gathered in the western mountains in the town of Jado in June 2012 in an attempt to form a body that would protect journalists and defend their rights. They agreed to form the Journalist Syndicate, but they spent the whole time arguing about fundamental issues like defining the Libyan journalist and debating questions like “Who is a journalist and who isn't?” They missed an opportunity to bring together all journalists under one umbrella that could act as a representative body and draft a Code of Ethics for journalists to follow, which was never finally approved or widely accepted. Due to the lack of leadership and management skills from the steering committee the discussion did not produce anything concrete. The group has attempted to bring journalists together since and has submitted their suggestions to the parliament and governments but with no result. The government claims that it does not have the legal framework and legislation to form any associations which should be the parliament’s role.

Similar pacts and codes of ethics were drafted but never were enforced or respected. One famous pact was the Madrid Declaration in 2015, when 20 Libyan media managers and journalists vowed to abide by a set of rules that were agreed upon in a meeting in the Spanish capital. Just like all other agreements, it did not hold for long nor did it have any impact on the overall issue.

In May 2018 the Journalist Syndicate had their second gathering after six years to crystallise their vision, and they were surprised by the UN-backed government’s decision of forming its own Journalist Association chaired by one of the government’s media officials, which mimics how Gaddafi used power-controlling measures.

There are also other attempts from independent groups of journalist to get together to fight for their rights, with the mutual understanding of avoiding the use of hate speech and putting their fellow journalists lives at risk. A clear example is the Libyan Journalists Independent Syndicate chaired by Reda Fhelboom, which has brought various issues facing journalists in Libya today back to light. Even though it is an independent, almost individual effort of enthusiastic journalists, it has issued statements condemning all violations against media organisations or personnel, also criticising the government for its recent restrictive policies on foreign media entering and working in the country. These are policies that put the lives of freelancers and foreign and national journalists working for international media at risk, as they deny them credentials, press IDs and entry visas. The Government of National Accord (GNA) took such harsh measure after the CNN report on the slave trade in Libya.

Also the Libyan Center for Freedom of Press issued a joint statement with Reporters Without Borders demanding the UN-backed government to reconsider these new policies and regulations.

Having such institutions could possibly bring journalists closer and allow them to find a common ground and to agree on a set of rules, besides helping them to stand up for their rights. Libya has many issues, and media are playing a large role, but as the UN peace process is focused on political factions and security issues, journalists have no option but to create their own instruments.