New openness on 38th anniversary of Kadhafi coup

As Libya marks the 38th anniversary on Saturday of the coup that brought Moamer Kadhafi to power, the usual glowing tributes come with a new spirit of press freedom and anti-government criticism.

New openness on 38th anniversary of Kadhafi coup
Ahead of the anniversary, the capital Tripoli has been decorated with flags and large portraits of Kadhafi, while banners paying homage to "the head of the revolution" cover the city walls.

For days, state media have published extracts of Kadhafi's "narrative of the revolution" which recalls the events leading up to the September 1, 1969 overthrow of King Idris by Kadhafi and fellow army officers.

But the anniversary fanfare comes against a backdrop of greater press freedom.

Non-government media, which appeared in Libya this summer for the first time since Kadhafi came to power, offer some limited criticism. Kadhafi himself remains the red line not to cross.

While official newspapers have long been published on green paper, the new dailies Oea and Cyrene, the ancient Greek names for Tripoli and the second city of Benghazi, are printed on blue paper.

The two dailies, which have a more attractive page layout than their official counterparts, are owned by the Al-Ghad (Tomorrow) firm which launched in August Al-Libiya, the nation's first private television station.

They have criticised members of the government, tackling subjects that have been taboo.

Prime Minister Baghdadi Mahmudi was the first to pay the price. Commenting on a development project in Tripoli, Oea reproached him for having disfigured the capital by ordering buildings demolished without plans to replace them.

Cyrene went further by raising the cases of Libyan opposition members exiled abroad.

An editorial urged the authorities to allow opposition members to return home, saying they had left their country after having had "a feeling of political or economic injustice."

Created by young writers and journalists encouraged by Kadhafi's son Seif al-Islam, Al-Ghad hopes for a "rebirth" in Libya's media landscape, dominated for nearly 40 years by the General Libyan Press Office.

The office oversees three daily newspapers which are "Al-Fajr Jedid" or "New Dawn," "Al-Jamahiriya," "The Republic" and "Al-Shams," "The Sun."

A fourth daily, "Al-Zahf Al-Akdhar," is published by the revolutionary committees, the backbone of Kadhafi's government which has long banned the private media.

The "Green Book," which condenses Kadhafi's political ideas, stipulates that the "press is a means of expression of society, and not a means of expression of a physical or moral person".

"We are counting on giving a new image to the Libyan press. The media should not be happy to report information but help state bodies fight corruption," said Al-Ghad director Mohammed Bussifi.

Bussifi said he was "ready to push criticism as far as possible," but without crossing the "red line of the leader" Moamer Kadhafi, he added.

A publishing, printing and distribution firm, Al-Ghad has also signed contracts with international publishing houses to ensure the distribution of foreign publications "without censorship," he said.

He said that his firm had set up 200 news stands in Tripoli and Benghazi to improve distribution.

Beshir Belawi, the head of Al-Libiya, promised that the new channel will offer "a large margin of freedom and criticism."

"The channel's programming during the (Muslim fasting) month of Ramadan will be decisive to underlining our difference with the official channels," he said.

Seif al-Islam stirred an uproar last year when he said official newspapers were "dull" and "nobody read them," as he called for freeing media from the grip of the state.

Recently, in outlining a draft constitution, he appealed for a society equipped with independent media to highlight cases of corruption and fraud.

Last Mod: 01 Eylül 2007, 09:50
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