I am a Libyan journalist: Houda Al Chaikhi

July 31, 2017

The words of Houda Al Chaikhi, journalist at Libya Alhadath TV in Benghazi, Libya.

I am Houda Al Chaikhi.

Libya is entering its sixth year of instability. Libya has seen political conflicts transform into territorial division. Here we have a country with three governments, with militias, an army and the nightmare of Islamic State/Daesh, which is trying to exploit the chaos to gain a foothold and export terrorism all over the world. Split into east, west and south, our country is united by the crisis faced by its citizens, regardless of their ideology or affiliation, and by a vicious war whose main weapon is the local media, on both the national and international fronts.

In the face of kidnappings, intimidation, assaults and contempt for the law and rival ideologies, how can a journalist be professional? Will he treat events with objectivity? Has the crisis imposed new standards on the profession?

Asmaa Al Hawaz from Benghazi, a journalist for ten years, thinks that "what distinguishes a journalist from other citizens is his ability to transmit his ideas through the media on different platforms, which compels him to be objective, serious and impartial.

Defamation, distortion and twisting the facts do harm to the journalist himself, as well as to his audience and his institution. Such practices lead inevitably to a loss of trust. It follows that the profession must never be used as a weapon to achieve a particular aim, despite what we are experiencing today, where the only standards applied are in the language and editing".

By contrast, Saif Al Islam Abhih from Bin Jawad, a journalist for seven years, has decided to give up reporting directly on political issues and focus on social issues instead.

"With the events we are going through, the Libyan press no longer observes professional ethics when it investigates and reports on a topic. This is clearly due to the weakness of law enforcement, which ought to protect journalists and the institutions they work for from harm. As a result, everyone works to avoid all confrontation".

Mohamad Nour El Dine, from Sabha, a journalist for six years, believes that "what we are experiencing is a profession in crisis. As a result, we have to be discerning and thoughtful when we treat rapidly unfolding chains of events. The press today follows a specific agenda set by their employers and their institutional strategies. The only agenda we ought to be following is the nation, and not some ideology, the government or the bosses."

Mohamad Abdallah, from Awjila, a journalist for six years, believes that "It is really hard for journalists to find a happy medium in the way they report the news. This is because of fear, the nature of the region and the environment here, especially with regard to the worsening security situation and the political and military splits that the country is going through."

Abed El Naser Khaled from Tripoli, a journalist for eighteen years, ultimately characterises the current media as organised and ruled by the demands of the conflict: "Professional ethics are principles and practices that don't change, no matter what challenges a media organisation may face. Journalism has to take account of the public interest without bending the truth. To put it another way, it's about finding a balance between the public interest and the truth, while respecting traditions, customs and heritage and avoiding things that stir up violence, hatred or anarchy."


All of the fellow journalists I have quoted above, regardless of where they come from or how long they have been in the profession, agreed that we are not experiencing a crisis in the profession, but rather, a profession in crisis. This crisis has fettered journalism, using it as a lethal weapon against society. Thus it succeeds in hijacking our convictions to cement one faction's control at the expense of another's, while adopting a discourse of fear, famine, thirst and all of those basic needs that a government ought to provide for its people.

We have quoted many examples, but all the journalists say the same thing: they force you to work solely to feed yourself. The alternative is to sit at home. Any other choice risks death from an unknown bullet. There is no professionalism. The forces at the heart of the conflict today refuse to tolerate or coexist with one another, whereas the country itself welcomes us with open arms.

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.