I am a Libyan journalist: Sleiman Al Barouni

July 13, 2017

The words of Sleiman Al Barouni, journalist at Radio Alwasat, Cairo (Egypt).

I am Sleiman Al Barouni

I've worked as a newsreader and talk show host on radio stations such as Radio Echourouk, Nfousa FM, Awal FM, Radio Alwasat and the Dutch international station Huna Sotak. On TV, I've also been a correspondent and newsreader on the Al Asima channel, as well as office director at Rusiya Al-Yaum in Tripoli.

"Ahmad, 25, always loved his job. He had a lifelong passion for it, and never imagined it would present him with so many problems and put him in such a complex situation.

He was barely seven when he first watched Khadija Benguenna present the television news on Al Jazeera. He was fascinated by her performance, her command of the language and her ability to move smoothly from one item to the next. At first, he wondered,

"Did she have to remember all those words before she came on screen?"

He couldn't think of any other way she could do it. From that day on, his love of television journalism grew incessantly. As a boy, he was fascinated by reading books and newspapers, and the more he grew up, the more his interest in the profession increased. He used to picture how one day he would sit on the other side of the screen, memorising all the news so he could pass it on to the viewers.

He never imagined how hard it would be to make the dream come true.

In Libya, graduates in information, communications and journalism, and anyone else wanting to work in the field, had to show support for Gaddafi in every form. The TV news always began with the words "Our brother and colonel Muammar Gaddafi", whether the Leader had hosted a visit from a minister, received a letter from a foreign president or simply woken up.

This was when Ahmad realised that he could never achieve the ambition he had carried with him since his childhood.

The years passed, and the Revolution erupted, putting an end to Gaddafi's reign and offering him a chance to rekindle his old passion. Journalism and the media had emerged into a new light. The news on TV was no longer the same, and a new sheen of professionalism spread across the industry. Ahmad felt this was an opportunity to make his childhood dream a reality.

He joined various radio and television stations, and tried to learn about the profession and broaden his experience. Yet very soon, the country's media began to split into different camps.

In his first year as a journalist, the haze of wonder in which he had been living began to clear, both in his head and in his heart – not because he under-appreciated the profession itself, but because of the people who had given him his opening in it, and certain truths which were only revealed to those on the inside.

In the end, you realise you're just a clerk and this is where you work. You write what the department head wants you to write, which is the viewpoint of the editor-in-chief, who takes his orders from businessmen who work for the interests of one of the political parties.

The goal is to cosy up to them or try to achieve their aims by putting certain political factions in a more favourable light.

Ahmad discovered that before he became a journalist, he hadn't known what happens in Libya's corridors of power and that he didn't have enough contacts, despite the contacts he made in the Revolution, which was still a fresh experience for a country that had spent four decades under Gaddafi's rule. But despite the fact that being a journalist was physically tiring, financially insecure and just difficult, he couldn't let it go that easily, especially not if he wanted to hold on to what we call principles.

Doing this job in Libya was no easy task, especially once parties and political programmes began to spring up. Each faction set up its own media to relay its own point of view and its own programme to the public. Professionalism was not a major concern for most of these organisations. They were happy to be their owners' mouthpieces and put out whatever the owners desired.

After the war began in Tripoli in 2014, presenting the live news made Ahmad afraid. He would hear gunfire and missile strikes that shook the whole building. He kept imagining that armed gangs would burst into the studio. While he was presenting, he used to wonder, would he be able to escape and save his skin?

Or would he announce to the viewers that a militia had captured the studio?

Ahmad believes that the journalism he loved for so long does not entirely exist in Libya. He thinks that he, like others who resist the wretched state of the country's journalism, will stick to his principles, defending his rights as a professional and the public's right to genuine news. He rejects orders from people in power, spurns the businessmen's money and refuses to bow down and broadcast lies for the political factions whose fight for power has brought Libya to its knees.

Ahmad is a citizen, and a young man who dreams of being a professional journalist and working in a job he adores. But what will happen to him if he refuses?

The militias will certainly put him in jail. He could end up jobless or even go abroad, because working as a journalist in Libya is like walking through a minefield."

In order to sustain democratic debate in Libya, CFI launched Project Hiwar in early 2017 in partnership with the Crisis and Support Centre of the French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs. The project creates a forum for the expression of different points of view on the Libyan press.
One session made up of four workshops was arranged in Tunisia. It was attended by twelve Libyan journalists, who travelled from Libya, Jordan, Turkey, Egypt and Tunisia.

This article forms part of the booklet I am a Libyan journalist, which collects a variety of pieces written by the journalists involved in Project Hiwar.