Libya: journalists prepare for ‘floodgates to open’
Newspaper journalists and broadcasters descend on Libyan border as uprising threatens Muammar Gaddafi’s 41-year rule
A blanket ban on foreign journalists entering Libya has meant that facts are increasingly hard to verify.
The BBC is one of the only international news organisations with a correspondent in Libya’s capital, Tripoli, where government and state television buildings came under attack on Monday.
However, the world’s media was today preparing for the “floodgates to open” on Egypt’s western border as the uprising threatens to engulf Gaddafi’s 41-year rule in Libya.
Ashraf Khali, a Cairo-based freelance correspondent for the Wall Street Journal and the Times, said on Twitter: “International media in Cairo is heading en masse to the Egypt Libya border and just waiting for the floodgates to open.”
ITN, which produces ITV News and Channel 4 News, said it had deployed eight people to Egypt’s border with Libya. They include Channel 4 News international editor Lindsey Hilsum and ITV News senior correspondent James Mates.
“Our newsrooms are working closely with local sources in Libya to help us cover this major international news story to the best of our ability,” an ITN spokeswoman told the MediaGuardian.co.uk. “Operationally, while we can’t yet enter Libya, we are committed to providing extensive coverage for our viewers.”
Jon Williams, the BBC’s world news editor, said there would be an “almighty scrambling” to report from Tripoli if the city fell into the hands of protesters, like the country’s second city of Benghazi last week.
Despite having one permanent correspondent in Tripoli and staff journalists from the BBC World Service’s Arabic operation, the BBC was still “relying on those on the ground to tell us what’s happening”, Williams wrote on the BBC’s editors blog.
“Their phone accounts – often accompanied by the sound of gunfire and mortars – are vivid. However, inevitably, it means we cannot independently verify the accounts coming out of Libya. That’s why we don’t present such accounts as ‘fact’ – they are ‘claims’ or ‘allegations’,” he said.
A spokeswoman for Sky News said: “We’re pulling on the expertise of our journalists who are in the region, and likewise from the team in London, and are continuing to explore further how we might be able to report from Libya.”
In a state TV broadcast, Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam, on Sunday said foreign media had inflated the scale of the uprising, and that the Libyan army would “eradicate” enemies of the state.
Heather Blake, the UK director of press freedom organisation Reporters Without Borders, told MediaGuardian.co.uk that international media was almost invisible in Libya, where attacks on local journalists have increased in recent days.
“With Egypt we were inundated with calls from international media about arrests and attacks on them, but in Libya – unless they’re not experiencing any problems – there’s been no contact from international media,” Blake said.
“We’ve been contacted by family members of Libyan journalists who were arrested over the weekend and are still missing. We have no representative in Libya because you can’t promote press freedom and not be detained or killed there at this point.”
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