Introduction from the Dean

Imagining a “media vision” for a country wracked by civil war after decades of autocratic rule is a daunting task. But that is the challenge for several countries caught up in and redefined by the Arab Spring of 2011.

Nowhere is that more true than in Libya whose press has been mostly state owned and where the institutions and infrastructure that typically buttress freedom of expression and an independent media had virtually disintegrated under the 40-year rule of Moammar Gadhafi.

It was this condition that stimulated the interest of Northwestern University in Qatar and prompted an invitation to the Libyan government and media to consider joining a “good offices” conference to think strategically about the role, function and operations of a new media system that is emerging in their country. That conference, officially endorsed by Libya’s ruling National Transitional Council and convened in Doha, Qatar on December 10-11, 2011, brought together 17 conferees charged with responsibility for fashioning media policy and directing media operations.

This report captures the essence of those two days of the Media Vision for Libya “good offices” conference, in which Northwestern University in Qatar served as an impartial platform for and arbiter of a debate aimed at defining freedom of expression, the Libyan context, and the steps necessary to assure free and sustainable media.

It is a photograph in time recounting what happened between and among the participants rather than a comprehensive study of the state of Libyan media or a strategic plan for their future. That process involved an encounter with systematic knowledge about media governance, the media economy, media technology policy as well as education and training – all informed by experience. What happened at the conference resulted in a statement of principles on media freedom and independent media, as well as a modest action plan to jump-start the process. While the conferees literally represented their country and its media, their experience in government or media was limited and in some cases nonexistent. And their longevity as the de facto voice of Libya was also uncertain. Indeed the chairman of the delegation and vice-chair of the NTC resigned in controversy three weeks after the conference, in response to critical demonstrations unrelated to this conference and its findings.

Each of the major conference sessions is captured here. You will hear the voices of the conferees themselves as they struggled with the complexities and nuances of media development in the wake of a cruel dictatorship and continuing strife in their country. For all Libya’s pain, the conference provided a rare opportunity for a nation to begin re-inventing its media system.

What follows is a report on the Media Vision for Libya deliberations and their outcome. The conference benefitted from the participation of Dr. Nabil El-Araby, Secretary General of the Arab League, who pointed out the importance of media freedom for a state that wants to function as a respected member of the global community. We are indebted to media economist Robert Picard of the Reuters Institute at Oxford University, media training executive Joyce Barnathan of the International Center for Journalists and technology policy expert Robert Pepper of Cisco Systems for expert presentations that guided the discussion and helped shape options and choices.

Special thanks to Patrick Forbes of Forbes Associates, whose work in Libya and negotiations made the conference possible as well as others who helped at NU-Q and the NLC.

Everette E Dennis, Dean and 
CEO, Northwestern University in Qatar