Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat- Just a few months ago Suleiman Dughah was one of the best-known Libyan journalists living abroad and classified as an opponent of the regime of Muammar Al-Gaddafi. At the very least he was a strong advocate of the slogans of change and inevitable reform, long advocated by Saif al-Islam Al-Gaddafi, the colonel’s second son, who is viewed as the chief proponent of “Tomorrow’s Libya” project.
This project began as a social and economic scheme but later became a political plan. It was only natural that it should be accompanied by a media organ, particularly as Al-Gaddafi’s son was unhappy with the difficult and tragic situation of Libya’s official media. The project subsequently turned into the name of a media firm that managed two dailies, Oea and Cyrene, the old Roman names for the cities of Tripoli and Banghazi, in addition to the al-Libiyah television station, which was later renamed Al-Mutawassit Channel. Its broadcasting studios were subsequently moved first to Jordan and later to Britain in controversial circumstances.
In the following interview Dughah talks in detail to Asharq Al-Awsat about what happened. For the first time, he refers to the influence exerted by the revolutionary committees, which are the backbone of the system adopted in Libya since 1977, on the media and political project of Al-Gaddafi’s son.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Apparently some controversy surrounded your appointment in Al-Ghad Media Corporation. It was said that Saif al-Islam Al-Gaddafi was your most prominent supporter. What are the facts?
[Dughah] What happened was that a member of the corporation’s general assembly objected to my appointment on the grounds that I was not in Libya during the blockade and that it was unfair to give the post to someone who had just arrived from abroad. Of course this did not make sense because I was a Libyan citizen from a family of modest means like most other Libyans. I was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth. I left Libya only in 1995, which means that I lived with my people throughout the lean years, from the time of the US air raid to the blockade years. At any rate I respected this debate as a normal thing. I also respected, perhaps to a greater degree, Saif al-Islam’s position. Although the man had nominated me for the post and was able if he wished to impose me on the corporation, he did not use any pressure and allowed the matter to be decided in a democratic fashion. He showed respect for the position of the objectors. Additionally brother Saleh Abdul-Salam made a commendable effort to persuade them.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You are the first media worker from outside the official group to join the bandwagon of reform and change, slogans raised by the colonel’s son. Do you expect any difficulties from the revolutionary committees?
[Dughah] You need to know that the media about which Saif al-Islam spoke and wished to see in Libya from day one are not the official media. On the contrary, the man strongly criticized his country’s official media and urged a radical reform of the “Jamahiri media’s” image. These media had turned `into a feudal, exclusive club and were colorless organs monopolized by a few individuals. Hence I am counted as one the workers of tomorrow’s [al-Ghad] media. As to the revolutionary committees, I do not think that they will place any obstacles in the way for the simple reason that most of their leaders now believe in the “Tomorrow’s Libya” project. Some of them are working in Al-Ghad Media Corporation. And some are outside it. Some of them are my dear friends and colleagues. You might find a difference of opinion here and there. This is normal; it is a healthy sort of situation. We do not want a state that is founded on the loser Bush’s theory of “either with me or against me.”
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Al-Gaddafi’s son is always talking about a new, different type of media. What are the features of his media plan, if one may put it this way?
[Dughah] Saif al-Islam has spoken of tomorrow’s media’s vision and identity that are based on restructuring the Jamahiri media in the right form. In one of his speeches he referred to the BBC school as a model. In my opinion the BBC was the first organ to implement this type of media in 1927, namely, a media organ financed by the people and subject to the people’s authority and supervision that can criticize successive regimes and governments objectively, transparently, and professionally. Most Arab media today belong to the old duality, government-owned media that sing the regime’s praises and opposition media that curse and hurl abuse. Let me be frank with you: the existing media are still far from the standard that Saif al-Islam advocates. This is the real challenge that now faces the new management team.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You spoke about a private news agency. Will it operate in parallel to the official news agency or will it be solely devoted to advocate change?
[Dughah] Neither this nor that. Very simply, it will report the news exactly as it happens.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Your sudden move from the opposition ranks to the regime’s ranks is controversial and raises questions. Do you see this move as normal?
[Dughah] First of all, it was not an abrupt move. All those who know me through my policy when I worked at the newspaper Libya al-Yawm and from my writings know that I am a reformist. I have always called for reforming my country’s conditions from within. I have never believed in the usefulness of military coups, that is, in overthrowing the regime and replacing it with another. I fought against any change that would come through US or British military power. I said that I was prepared to fight alongside the regime if my homeland was invaded. However, when there was no more any room for me to discuss reform while living at home, I went abroad. Today, however, there is a wider margin of freedom for me and for hundreds of others who have returned to Libya. Why then would anyone insist on exercising one’s opposition from abroad? Is it opposition for the mere sake of opposition?
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You revealed your salary on facebook. Was this an act of clearing your conscience or to state that you wish to be transparent?
[Dughah] There is widespread corruption in Libya, just like the rest of the Arab countries. Unfortunately the “war spoils” mentality governs the minds of those who have acquired their posts through loyalty rather than merit. A post to these people is an opportunity to get rich while the majority of the people face harsh economic conditions. Now before we urge these persons to be transparent and have clean hands, we should apply these slogans to ourselves. “Do ye enjoin right conduct on the people and forget to practice it yourselves?” [Koranic verse, the Cow 2:44] I promise you that this will be the conduct of the entire Al-Ghad Media Corporation, not only the director.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What future do you envisage for Al-Ghad Corporation in line with Saif al-Islam’s political program?
[Dughah] Saif al-Islam’s “Tomorrow’s Libya” project is an ambitious scheme that has a truly patriotic vision, message, and identity. It starts with political, economic, and even social development. It addresses the issues of economic development, health, education, the courts, human rights, and liberties. How can a project like this work unless it is backed by strong media that respect the Libyan people’s minds, help to spread enlightenment in society, and fight frustration, backwardness, ignorance, corruption, and despotism? We need media that give confidence, optimism, and hope of a better tomorrow to everybody. We need media that expose shortcomings and defects in the national scheme and provide guidance to the ship and its skipper, not media that only sing praises and indulge in the silly publicity that has ensured the failure of many major projects that the Libyan revolution sponsored.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What can you tell us about Al-Mutawassit Television Station? They say that it has a shaky standard and lacks popularity.
[Dughah] Al-Mutawassit Channel was established in exceptional circumstances, so naturally mistakes were made, creating this shakiness and confusion that you mention. When I took over as director, we were faced by a dilemma, to continue in that exceptional situation or halt broadcasting to reformulate the station’s vision and message so that it would have an Arab Maghreb and Mediterranean character that agrees with our Arab, Islamic, and African constants and identity. So of course we chose to halt broadcasting and rebuild the channel in a new form and with a strong journalistic and programming content. It will resume broadcasting soon, God willing.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Al-Gaddafi’s son spoke about starting a website and a hardcopy newspaper with same name. Where are they?
[Dughah] Let me be frank with you. One cannot speak of the windows and doors of a house whose construction has not been finished yet. We are now in the process of rebuilding Al-Ghad establishment. It is a huge media establishment, as you know. It has several television channels, daily newspapers, and websites. In the near future it will launch a news agency and a training and translation center. It has a huge printing press. Hence it is necessary to arrange the priorities according to transitional goals. We need to draw up a timetable to implement these projects gradually. For example, we have begun with the news agency project because of its extreme importance at this time and because it will organize the production and flow of the news in a professional way. This will enable us to have a strong news kitchen that will enable us to compete with the world’s major news agencies. We have dealt with the problem of the insufficient number of professional journalists in Libya by planning a training center that we will launch soon. I believe that our priorities focus on three issues: building the establishment’s structure and management cadre, training new homegrown journalists, and achieving financial independence. This is what Saif al-Islam wants in order to achieve in practical terms the “Jamahiri media” that the Libyan revolution advocated but which unfortunately has not been realized so far