It gives me great pleasure to be with you today discussing a free, independent media for the new Libya. The Libyan revolution was the third revolution in the Arab Spring, but in my view it is the most important one. In Tunisia or Egypt, matters were easier. In those counties rulers had been in power for a long time, did not want to leave power, and maybe considered passing on the throne to their heirs, as if the people of these countries were not human and can be inherited like cattle. But thanks to the youth of these nations, the people stood firm in their squares, demanding freedom, democracy and social justice. In Egypt it all ended in 18 days with limited casualties, although they are all martyrs to a great cause. However, Libya was the only country in this Arab Spring to witness hundreds of deaths and a real war on the ground.
I visited Libya many times with Arab foreign secretaries in the 1970s, but I did not visit again until three years ago. I went at the call of the Libyan Lawyer’s Union, and during my free time I wandered the streets and tried to find a newspaper, in any language, whether Arabic, English or French. I did not find anything except for pamphlets issued by Gaddafi praising his own regime.
I was amazed at how a country in the 21st century could not provide its people with the means to find out what was happening in their world. I was amazed by the billboards in the streets saying: “41 is Not a Number, it is a Life,” or “The Green Book is a Lighthouse for the World.” This was all indiscernible to me and caused me great sadness. It was a shame to see that Libyans had lived like this for four decades.
But when we look ahead and ask, “What do the people of the Arab world want?”, the answer is very simple. Arabs in the 21st century only want one thing: wise rule. Rule that defines estates clearly, be they executive, legislative or independent judiciary, and the fourth estate, the media. A fourth estate with independence that can criticize and hold accountable, but not be restricted in its presentation of the facts.
I hope that we will soon see free elections in Libya that can be the beginning of a democratic process. Unfortunately, we could not say that Arab media has seen an awakening until only recently. Of course, we have had long-standing outlets since the 19th century, but media in its modern sense, and especially electronic and broadcast media, which reach its audiences faster than print media, has been slow to progress. This media is important for democracy because it is an unofficial monitor of government performance.
If we look at the Western world, we can see that the most effective criticism has come from the media, followed by government bodies that are driven by this criticism to investigate and make improvements. Because of this, independent media is more than crucial, and we have to learn from past lessons to avoid making the same mistakes