Being a journalist under the autocratic rule of Libyan dictator Moammar Qadhafi was an exercise in choice: between promoting state propaganda and spending time in jail. Now that NATO has toppled the regime, Libya is a little better at letting reporters practice their trade. But the press in Libya is by no means free.
That’s according to human rights watchdog Freedom House, which has just released its latest annual survey of press freedom around the world. While the group says that media in Libya has clearly improved after Qadhafi, the watchdog’s report describes a country where armed groups have taken to intimidating journalists while independent media has gone into retreat. All the while, a new legislature professes to be for freedom of the press — but has attempted to limit it.
Though it’s not all bad news. Freedom House’s practice involves analyzing the legal, political and economic factors of each country, and then assigning them numerical values totaling a maximum of 100 points, which is the worst possible ranking. Since the collapse of the Qadhafi regime — and the autocrat’s death in 2011 — Libya’s rankings have improved in all three categories. A total score of 94 in 2010 when Qadhafi was in charge, which the group termed “Not Free” and “among the most tightly controlled in the world,” has dropped 35 points to a total of 59, or “Partly Free.”
The reason for the relative improvement might be best summed up as instability at least being better than Qadhafi. The United States and NATO helped overthrow the dictator in part to build a more open Libya. But it’s still not free, though. Or even mostly. Journalists have been arbitrarily arrested. Arbitrary imprisonment is still widespread, according to Human Rights Watch, which has documented attacks — including torture and rape — on villagers deemed disloyal.