A fascinating first-person account by veteran journalist and media trainer Carolyn Robinson chronicles her experiences training broadcast journalists in Libya after the death of leader Moammar Qaddafi. Robinson outlines some of the challenges she faced in managing two USAID/OTI grants for Internews in the early days after the revolution, and how her team adopted novel approaches to overcome the difficulties they faced on the ground. She outlines not so much about what can and should be done for media development in Libya today, but about how to structure training in chaotic post-conflict environments.
Following the death of Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi in the revolution of 2011, Internews became one of the first international media development groups to offer assistance in Libya.
USAID and its Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI), along with an implementing partner, moved quickly to make funds available for this project. This speedy start enabled Internews to generate goodwill, strong credibility, and considerable trust with its local partners.
The program sprang out of an Internews media assessment mission in Libya during the height of the conflict in May-June 2011, followed by a second fact-finding mission in October 2011 shortly after Qaddafi’s death.
I spent four months as program director for Internews in Libya, from January to May 2012. Our small field team of four, including our two Libyan assistants, our resident journalism adviser from Gaza, and myself, an American, faced a short timeframe, external operational delays, a very turbulent media scene, and a highly uncertain security situation. Despite these challenges, we organized five embedded trainings, nine open workshops, and two content analyses, most of which took place over a two-month span in March and April.
Obstacles and Challenges
Our four-month project faced a host of challenges: a constantly shifting media landscape, which made training, assessing media needs, and measuring local media content difficult; finding the right local partners; contending with security concerns and ever-changing visa requirements; operating in a cash-only economy; reporting to multiple funders; and trying to coordinate donor efforts.
Shifting Media Landscape
How to train journalists at local outlets in a constantly changing media environment? That was the chief dilemma we faced throughout our projects in Libya. New private radio stations popped up and vanished like quick-blooming flowers. Entrepreneurs pitched many proposals for new TV stations. Print media went on overdrive after the revolution, with dozens of new titles appearing weekly at newsstands, but with costs of publication usually exceeding income, sustainability was always a big question mark.
Before the revolution, all print and broadcast media in Libya were under state control, including the national TV and radio network with branches in several cities. By the time we arrived just a few months after Qaddafi’s death, there were hundreds of new print publications along with several private radio and TV stations, mostly centered in Tripoli and Benghazi but also in Misrata, the third-largest city, and smaller towns throughout the country. The state broadcasting system was still operating, but its channels had splintered into several semi-autonomous outlets that were still defining their management structure and mission purpose in the new free Libya.
Just to complicate things, many media outlets had the same or similar names…..
Libya is a unique example of a country in transition. I have worked in other post-conflict nations, including Tunisia and East Timor, and each country brings its own fresh, individual challenges. Perhaps the only common denominators are confusion and turbulence.
I thought about this one day in Tripoli as I watched hundreds of swallows zooming around wildly as usual outside my hotel windows. It dawned on me that over several months, I had never seen these birds flock together in any organized fashion. They just flew around separately making fast, random swoops and always seemed excited. The poor creatures were probably shell-shocked from all the constant gunfire and shooting into the air. Whatever the cause, it seemed to be a metaphor for the whole country. If the birds can’t even group together post revolution, how much should we expect from a traumatized human population?
The first small steps of training and development in post-conflict environments may not necessarily produce dazzling results on paper, but when these are coupled with speed and flexibility in addressing real needs of local journalists instead of our own predetermined agendas, the reward is a strong relationship between local journalists and international media developers that can pay off handsomely for all in the long run.
This is a brief extract from a special report published by The Center for International Media Assistance, an initiative of the National Endowment for Democracy. CIMA works to strengthen the support, raise the visibility, and improve the effectiveness of independent media development throughout the world.