Man in dirt ditch on mattress next to gun reads newspaper

I recently read a really interesting piece about media ethics in the January/February 2012 of The Atlantic. The article, “Freed Press,” is writer Graeme Wood’s personal account of teaching said ethics to a group of about 50 young (under 30) Libyan journalists.

A rebel fighter reads a newspaper at Misrata's western front line

Wood writes that about 100 independent magazines and newspapers are published in the Libyan city of Benghazi, which is a substantial number considering there were zero before the city’s liberation a year ago. Wood goes on to say that his students were all very eager to learn, which to me is an exciting thing. The fact that a country once ruled by Gaddafi and forbidden to practise real journalism is finally allowed to open its doors—and its minds—to the idea of freedom of the press, and is doing so willingly, breathes fresh life into the eastern media. Of course, that doesn’t mean there were no obstacles in Wood’s path:

“I preached a gospel of objectivity, freedom from bias, and independence—the canonical American journalistic virtues—and explained why journalists aren’t supposed to shade stories to protect the powerful, or lie, or break the law, or pay their sources, or be paid by them, or pretend to be someone they’re not. The students appreciated the theory but challenged me in practice. Nearly all said, for example, that they would decline to publish a story that made the leaders of the rebel government look bad, at least until the war was finished.”

That, for me, was an eye-opener because it reminded me that not every country in the world lives life the way that we do in North America. The people of Libya are still struggling to free themselves of their past and are still trying to work out how to deal with their present. I think it’s great, though, that so many publications have popped up in Benghazi, and that North Americans are stepping in to guide them along. It shows an investment in ethical media practices and a belief that freedom of the press is a right, not a privilege. It’s okay that we’re not altogether there yet; after all, we’ve got to start somewhere.

Image via Zohra Bensemra, Reuters.

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About the author

Sara Harowitz was the Editor of the Summer 2012 issue of the Ryerson Review of Journalism.

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