In 1972 the Gaddafi regime drafted a Press Law which has been amended several times, bar for some very controversial clauses which remain in place till today, such as Article 178 of the penal code which provides for life imprisonment for anyone putting out news that could “tarnish the country’s reputation or undermine confidence in it abroad.” The penal code under Article 207 also stipulates the death penalty for “anyone who advocates inside Libya, by whatever means, theories or principles aiming to change the basic tenets of the national constitution or the basic structures of the social system, or aiming to overthrow the state’s political, social or economic structures.” These clauses are opened to interpretation and they were usually used to repress political opposition. Many journalists were faced with charges in the past few years in application of the same laws from the Gaddafi era. A journalist can still be charged when speaking against officials as the penal code stands as it was and has not been amended to allow freedom of speech. Article 195 of the Penal Code (Law No 5) states that: “Anyone who insults the leader of the Great September Revolution or People's authority, a judicial body or the armed forces, or publicly humiliates the Libyan Arab people, or the emblem of the state or its flag, shall be punished with imprisonment."
This law was amended in 2014 as follows: “Without prejudice to any harsher penalty, whoever commits an act that prejudices the 17 February Revolution shall be punished by imprisonment. The same penalty shall be imposed on any person who publicly insults the legislative, executive, or judicial branches or any member thereof during or due to the performance of duties, or who insults the state emblem or flag."
A journalist was once detained for using a GoPro drone during a demonstration at the Martyrs’ Square in Tripoli, after being charged with illegally driving an unlicensed flying vehicle.
Understanding the current state of the legal framework affecting Libya’s media landscape is challenging given the multiple governments contesting legitimacy. In addition, the country is still in a state of transition with many laws from the Gaddafi era that still need to be replaced or amended properly.
It is almost impossible to access up-to-date legislation or verified versions of the laws, if they exist. The governments are not used to sharing decrees online, especially the controversial ones, unless they see political gains from publicising these decision. Also the legislating body in East Libya has not had a proper session with full quorum for over two years. There has not been any new law enforcement due to the absence of the rule of law and courts. This has been the case for a long time and has caused a legal vacuum.
The current Constitutional Declaration which was drafted in 2011 by the NTC states in articles 14 that "the State shall guarantee freedom of opinion, individual and collective expression, research, communication, press, media, printing and editing". But while some believe that this has put an end to all of the Gaddafi regime laws and legislation, which is considered a positive move as these laws were considered as restrictive and oppressive, others believe that the same laws had still reason to be in force due to the absence of detailed regulations and policies at a time of lacking references and uncertainty. This will last until the legislators draft new laws, or the newly proposed constitution draft is put up for referendum and approved to replace the former regime laws.
Libyans have expressed a strong demand for the government to regulate this overly liberalised media landscape, through many journalists including civil society organisations and media outlets who demanded to take part in the peace process and come to a national-level legal framework. But this has not been a priority for any of the governments or the parliaments that followed Gaddafi’s fall, leaving the legal system in chaos, especially because the 2011 constitutional declaration and Gaddafi-era laws often greatly contradict one another.
There are those who argue that Gaddafi laws still stand by referring to article 35 of the constitutional declaration that states: “All provisions established in the existing legislation shall remain in force in so far as they are not inconsistent with the provisions of this Declaration until they are amended or repealed.”
While those opposing this view claim that when Gaddafi’s Green Book states that "Democratically, private individuals should not be permitted to own any public means of publication or information", this shows that licensing was not possible for private media, which stands in contradiction with the constitutional deceleration and human rights.
Due to the absence of any clear and concise overall media law, the legal environment for media in Libya remains ambiguous. This creates a situation where media outlets and social media are used in a very negative way, with hate speech and incitement commonplace. In 2015 UNESCO started the process of policy reform and with the help of Spain and the USA, a series of workshops was held in Madrid and attended by some media figures. Yet their number was limited and they were not the main players on the ground, and had very little influence on the overall situation.