By Shane McGinley
Libya is looking to transform its media landscape after decades of state control and it is looking to Qatar to help it achieve the best model possible. Everette E Dennis, Dean and CEO of Northwestern University Qatar, who has led the talks, outlines some of the issues facing the new Libyan government regime
One of the enduring images of the final days of the Libyan civil war was Sky News reporting live from inside rebel trucks as they swept into Tripoli and finally ended Muammar Gaddafi’s stranglehold on the country.
The rebels were eager to engage with the international media to get their message out when they were fighting for freedom. Now that they are in power, the same media has started to scrutinise them and their policies, which is something the new temporary government initially found hard to deal with.
Their concerns, and how best to create a modern media framework, were some of the issues raised when a delegation from the National Transitional Council (NTC) met in Doha at Northwestern University Qatar’s campus to debate the issues and try and decide on how best to move forward.
“After four decades of autocratic rule, Libya is now in a position to create an independent, national media system that meets the needs of its people,” Abdulhafeedh Ghoga, vice chairman of the NTC and head of delegation, said at the time. “These principles and action items will serve as guideposts as we seek to put in place the type of media environment required by a vibrant, modern state.”
In January, Ghoga’s resignation made global headlines, something that Everette E Dennis, Dean and CEO of Northwestern University Qatar (NU-Q), says demonstrates how important the future of Libya is regarded internationally.
“The departure of the vice president of a transitional government wouldn’t have made a ripple [a few years ago] but now it is up there. People are watching these things.”
“The Libyan experience was fostered by cultivation work we were doing in the region and looking around at what was happening post-Arab Spring. It was evident Libya was the perfect case... Basically a devastated institution and infrastructure, it was a basket case and a place where all media was state-owned and not a lot was happening,” Dennis says of the creation of the think tank designed to aid the new Libyan government.
“What we talked about was some of the principles of why you need freedom of expression and what that helps a country do and match that up with what models might work. Is it going to be a private-sector model? Is it going to be a public service BBC-version model or some kind of state model, which is what they have now? So we worked through those.
“One thing I think they were impressed with… was that to be a legitimate nation you have to have a some kind of independent media system or you have one moving in that trajectory.
“Their concern was, which I thought was interesting, was that they were great champions for free press and they helped the international press come and cover Libya, which they did… But now the international media is biting the hand that fed them and [the NTC] didn’t like that and thought maybe we need some government channels to make this happen.
“That was said on the first day and on the last day they were saying we understand no good deed goes unpunished and we have to live with criticism and some of the most profound leaders in the history of the world were subject to enormous criticism.”
When it comes to which model would best suit the Libyan system, Dennis says the NTC favoured a private-sector model where advertising or user fees would generate revenues.
“They greatly admired Al Jazeera and we had some great conversations about everything from training to different business models to technical operations of what works and what doesn’t.”
Working with the Libyan government is the start of NU-Q’s attempt to build its profile in the Middle East since it was set up in 2008 as the first international outpost of the Illinois-based institution. It now offers two programmes to around 150 students from 24 countries at its campus in Doha.
“The university was interested in expanding its Middle Eastern operations in order to understand a region of the world it hadn’t attended to much before… We want to be a constructive influence that can connect the academy with business and with government and other interests to that end an support those kinds of enterprises,” says Dennis.
The students can also take advantage of top-class facilities and impressive work experience opportunities. In February, fourteen NU-Q students, seven of whom are Qatari nationals, were selected for ten-week professional residencies at organisations that included the Financial Times in New York, the Huffington Post, also in New York, and Vogue and Cosmopolitan magazines in London.
“It is a great time for a school like ours as we are at the crossroads of traditional media,” Dennis says of the current environment for new students looking to get into the sector.