Rumours are a danger to social cohesion: Serraj government
By Sami Zaptia.
London, 10 January 2019:
Libya’s Ministry of Interior (MoI) aligned to the Tripoli-based and Faiez Serraj-led Presidency Council and Government of National Accord has warned against the corrosive effect of rumours (fake news) on society.
It warned against the danger of spreading rumours on society adding that “Rumours are a serious phenomenon that is used to strike at the cohesion of societies”.
It said that “the sources of rumour differ from individuals to the print, audio and visual media. With the spread of social media and its dominance in society, the owners of suspicious agendas who manage these sites have been able to spread their poison and rumours that have negatively impacted the simple citizen and fuelled public opinion, thereby benefiting their interests and agendas.”
“To counter rumours and their devastating effects on society”, the MoI’s Sunday statement continued, “we must intensify our efforts by taking simple steps, including not contributing to the redissemination of these lies, and taking news only from reliable and well-known sources”.
Th MoI did not define or identify what it considered “well-known sources”. It also did not deal with the fact that people holding opposing political views may have different perspectives on what is good or bad or what is right or wrong.
A good example is the Libya Dawn versus Karama or tge so-called Islamists versus liberal movements.
“The Ministry of Interior has more than once confirmed the seriousness of spreading rumours within the community and that this does not serve the conditions that our country is experiencing”.
The MoI added that it “has alerted through more than one local and foreign media patform as well as social networking pages, which have been observed through monitoring the publication of many wrong news before confirming its authenticity.”
However, while the MoI rightly pointed out the shortfalls of poor quality regular and social media operating in the post-Qaddafi era Libya, it failed to give a balanced reflection of the reality in Libya.
It and the Serraj government have also failed to provide solutions to mitigate the causes and effects of negative social media – beyond complaining about and hiding behind them.
There is no doubt that social media as a tool, has played a major part in exploiting the political, legitimacy and security vacuum in Libya.
The MoI failed to reflect honestly the contributing role of the Serraj government and all the official state entities under its authority. This also includes the House of Representatives (HoR) and the internationally unrecognized government in the east.
On the highest level, the failure by Libya’s political elite to agree on or present to the general Libyan public a new unified post-Qaddafi social contract and a unified, legitimate political structure, has been the major cause of the vacuum exploited by those pursuing a negative Libyan media agenda.
On another level, in western Libya, the media performance and output by the media departments of the Serraj ministries has been poor.
Indeed, the poor performance starts with the head of the Presidency Council and Government of National Accord head Faiez Serraj who limits his live press appearances, preferring to use prerecorded messages and using his personal spokesperson Mohamed El-Sallak instead.
Serraj, avoiding frequent live press conferences and live media appearances sends the wrong signal to media and the general Libyan public at large.
It smacks of fear and a lack of confidence, giving the impression that he has something to hide. This feeds into the conspiracy theory social media rumour mill.
Moreover, the various government media departments are unable or not prepared to respond instantly to media enquiries.
They are still in the traditional mode of standard press and video clip releases. They are often very much responsive rather than proactive to the news cycle and rather than positioning themselves ahead of the modern 24-hour news and fake news/rumour curve, they are often fire-fighting and playing catch up.
While paying lip service to transparancy, accountability, liberty and democracy, the experience of this writer and this publication is that the Serraj administration is sadly still in a semi-Qaddafi era media mode.
Many an occasion had the Libya Herald contacted the Serraj administration for confirmation, clarification and further analysis without success.
Hence the Serraj government must practice what it preaches by becoming more open and responsive to the media and adopt a freedom of information stance with regards to information.
It must upgrade the capabilities of all government media departments in line with the modern 24-hour regular and social media cycle.
Only by filling the news and information vacuum will the Libyan authorities have some success in reducing fake news and improving social cohesion. A social cohesion that is needed for a unified social contract and constitution.
A constitution that is also needed to enable Libya to exit its current weak transitional stage.