Challenges of how to regulate after the “Arab Spring” revolutions
As of 2011, some new laws and regulations have emerged, aimed at liberating the media, but these are still just proposals. The lack of clear laws and regulations has made the situation worse, as it is difficult to know how to manage all these media in the new chaotic environment. For example, the media sector has observed a significant change in its structure and media discourse (post-2011). The media are no longer controlled by Gaddafi’s legislation, regulations, and political directives, which had obstructed them (BBC News, 2016). To launch any medium, no authorized statement is needed. In addition, the Constitutional Declaration, issued by the National Transitional Council (NTC) after the political change, gave the right of freedom of expression, communication, and ownership, based on Article 14 of 2011 (Al-Asfar, 2013).
This guarantees freedom of opinion of the individual and of collective expression, communication, the media, and printing and publishing. The consequence has been an excessive increase in the number of newspapers, satellite channels, and other media outlets without taking into consideration society’s needs or its ability to absorb this huge increase in media. The state is now unable to manage all these media as they are run and supported by local and non-local bodies, especially those appearing on online formats such as Facebook and YouTube channels. This means that most news outlets are bankrolled by private entities and business interests. The majority of Libyans, however, wish to receive less politicized, more localized, and unbiased news.
The Internet and social media use
Libyans first accessed the Internet around the mid-1990s, but access was limited to elites and wealthy bodies until the early 2000s (El Issawi, 2013b). With the only provider being Libyan
Telecom (LT), Internet users were closely monitored (1996—2010). Because of a lack of broadband at home, people used to access the Internet via cafe shops. In 2009, the LT established WiMax coverage in most cities, offering a wireless service that enabled locals to access and interact with others. As of 2011, there has been a rapid increase in the number of online users in Libya, despite the lack of electronic power and the ongoing conflict. Online activists on social media are reported to constitute 61% of the population, with social media reaching more than 4,000,000 users in 2019 (DRI, 2019) and those users divided between politics and entertainment.
The Internet started to provide tech-savvy Libyans with another way to consume information as a multitude of Libyan news sites and blogs emerged. Therefore, the Internet has become an important source of independent news for Libyans. Dozens of sites now provide massive amounts of news and information. However, to make matters worse, after the 2011 unrest, an unprecedented amount of news and media outlets sprang up across the country and are now well acknowledged by Libyans, with 57% of Libyans using social media as their primary source of information, especially during the 2011 unrest (Khan, 2018). However, these media have become more polarized and entrenched in the hands of radicalized factions (since 2014). They are now driven by polarized narratives and views of different ideological and ethnically based alliances and rivalries. This has driven many users to migrate towards social media for news and updates as social media enable users to document their news and stories. However, social media have also become a platform used by politicians and militias for “propaganda” purposes or to fuel armed conflict (Abou-Khalil and Hargreaves, 2015; DRI, 2019). This includes delivering false information aimed at misdirecting people and creating confusion (Gatnash and Dahan, 2019).
Social and political functions of broadcasting
In Gaddafi’s era, media content was used as a propaganda tool, delivering the official line and imposing certain ideologies, leading public opinion, and mobilizing the public to support the states political views. In February 2011, the social and political functions of broadcasting changed after the UN and the so-called Friends of Libya4 mandated NATO airstrikes, which led to the death of Gaddafi, and the country descended into an ongoing civil war (Gatnash and Dahan, 2019; Moore, 2015). Politically, the country has been governed by different governments since then, from the NTC in March 2011 to the General National Congress (GNC) in August 2012 (Barbour et al., 2016). Militias and Islamists adopted a political isolation bill to prevent officials who worked under Gaddafi’s government from participating in politics, including the former prime minister, Ali Zidan (2012—2014), and the National Congress president, Mohamed El Magariaf (2012—2013), as well asjudges, police, army officers, and members of the boards of oil companies and banks (Clement and Salah, 2014; El Issawi, 2013b).
There is a disagreement between the House of Representatives (HR) in Tobruk (which was formed following the June 2014 elections) and its supporters, the GNC in Tripoli and its supporters, and various jihadists and tribal elements controlling different parts of the country, including ISIS-affiliated jihadist groups in Sirte and Derna. The GNC was supposed to hand power to the unicameral HR. However, the former refused to step down and give up its mandate and continued as the GNC, a now largely unrecognized rival parliament based in Tripoli (European Forum, 2016). The war has proved, on balance, to be a disaster and has turned the country into the model of a “failed state” (Kedze, 2015; Ronen, 2016; Shaoul, 2016). As a result, most Libyans do not trust local or non-local media outlets and alternatively choose to express themselves freely on social media.