Joyce Barnathan, president of the International Center for Journalists, began her presentation with an anecdote describing when, at a press conference in Moscow, Colonel Gaddafi was asked a tough question on terrorism by an Italian journalist.
“Gaddafi took a few seconds to think this over and then mumbled something. The translation: ‘What is your name? Who do you work for? And where do you live now?”
Now, journalists have the opportunity to ask those kinds of questions in Libya without fear of the repercussions. But in order to do their jobs effectively, some form of training is required, something that was lacking under the previous regime. How best to achieve this was the subject of Barnathan’s presentation, entitled ‘Human Capital: Professional Education and Training’. The first issue she tackled was sustainability: there is no point in investing in media organizations that cannot survive on their own, or in teaching skills for which there is no demand.
Training centers can be important, but their funding is a crucial consideration. The same is true of foreign donors setting up media outlets – when the funding inevitably dries up, it must be sustainable.
“There is no point in investing in media organizations that cannot survive on their own, or in teaching skills for which there is no demand.”
It may be tempting then to support existing media organizations, but most of these sprung up in the revolution and some are tied to particular interest groups. How to choose who to support? In post-revolution Tunisia, organizations had to apply for help and prove their commitment to certain things such as training, she said.
The Philippines has a non-profit center for investigative reporting, but that does mean that other outlets tend to underinvest in this vital area. Journalists can also be sent abroad for training, but this is expensive and reaches a very limited number of people, whereas a university program has more widespread benefits, though it does take time for these to take effect.
Other ideas worth investigating, she said, are distance learning, citizen journalism (possibly with professional editing), and websites that target the outside world.
She ended with another anecdote: a man visits a tailor and tries on a badly fitting suit. The tailor convinces him that if he raises one shoulder, twists a leg and leans forwards it will look much better. As he walks away two men see him. One takes pity on him for his apparent deformities. “Yes, a pity,” replied the other. “But what a heck of a good tailor he has. His suit fits him perfectly!”
This, she said, provides a warning for Libya: other models may look good, but they must fit Libya.
Barnathan emphasized the importance of sustainability, both in terms of the way education is financed and the kind of media environment the government creates. Robert Picard described the four possible sources of media income: readers, advertising, sponsors or subsidy.
The idea was raised of creating a media training fund into which each mainstream outlet would contribute a week’s wages per journalist.
The discussion then moved on to the current training available in Libya, with questions raised by some over the ability of universities to provide journalism training. While some international organizations are already helping, it was suggested that the NTC coordinate their efforts to avoid duplication.
The idea of short-term training ahead of the elections was again raised.
The Chair concluded by pointing out that training is essential if Libya is to develop the media it deserves, but it is up to Libya to decide what model best suits its needs.