Panafrican News Agency

Libyan civil society organisations denounce government's "move to control the media"

Tripoli, Libya (PANA) - Civil society organisations (CSOs) in Libya on Monday called on the Libyan government to reverse its decision to create a Government Information Authority with broad powers, saying that such a decision is likely to strengthen the government's influence on the media space and threaten media freedom.

In a statement received by PANA, the CSOs say the decision represents "a real danger to the freedom and independence of the media in Libya", through the extensive powers granted to "an administrative authority under the prime minister to supervise the information sector, without respecting international criteria".

The Libyan Organisation for Independent Information, the Article 19 Organisation, the Libyan Forum for Investigative Journalism, and the Voices for Information Network, urged the Libyan government to "realise its flawed approach in order to ensure a legal framework that is in line with the Libyan Constitutional Declaration and international standards on freedom of expression and the right to information.

The statement called on the government to avoid taking decisions aimed at shaping the future of the media sector without prior and necessary consultations with professional organisations, journalists, academics and other stakeholders in the media scene in the country.

The Council of Ministers of the Government of National Unity announced on 11 August the creation of a Government Information Authority with broad powers, which civil society organisations believe will facilitate the government's takeover of the entire system.

This decision follows the publication of another decision on 15 June, which provides for the management of 10 media structures to be placed under the supervision of six government departments, including the Council of Ministers, which now takes charge of four media structures, the CSOs said.

They deplored government's decision to change the title of the regulatory organization from "administration of exchange and information" to "the administration of information and government communication" with powers to supervise the various media, to control what is printed in the newspapers and programmes on radio and television.

The organisations also deplored the fact that the new administration supervises the execution of training plans and programmes for media workers under the supervision of the council of ministers, the statement noted, adding that the CSOs also criticised the signing of contracts relating to satellite frequencies.

The organisations also criticised the signing of contracts for satellite frequencies, the proposal of persons to head the media under the supervision of the council of ministers, the establishment of the system of authorisations for the creation of media outlets, the organisation of the work of the offices of channels broadcasting from outside Libya and with headquarters in Libya, considering that all these decisions reinforce the threat to the freedom of the press and expression in Libya.

The government's decision contradicts Article 15 of the Libyan Constitutional Declaration, which states that the state "is the guarantor of freedom of opinion, individual and collective expression, freedom of communication and freedom of the press, media and printing and publishing.

The decision also contradicts Article 19 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Libya.

The convention affirms "the independence of the public media from government" and stipulates "the need for the adoption of strong guarantees for their administrative and professional independence".

The public media do not benefit from these guarantees because "they are subject to the authority of the Prime Minister's office, which is likely to threaten the independence of these media through the possibility offered by the government to intervene in their editorial lines.

For the civil society organisations, the form of government information and communication management "does not meet international criteria on the independence and missions of the broadcast media, as these media structures are under the supervision of the Libyan government and do not benefit from any professional independence or financial autonomy, which places them under the directives of the Prime Minister.

The government's decision confirms "our fears already expressed in the past, when we warned against the distribution of media structures among different state services".

Thus, the information and communication administration is responsible for monitoring media content under the supervision of the Council of Ministers.

It must ensure that the content complies with specific criteria, including political criteria such as stability, and those intended to support the political process, which clearly indicates that the executive power wants to use the public media in the service of the state.

According to the statement, "the application of the government decision will create a double standard in the execution of the law.

The media under the supervision of the Council of Ministers will respect different criteria from those applied by other media under the direction of other government structures, which could further degrade the country's media scene, which will operate in a confused regulatory and professional framework.