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April 13, 2011

Amateur Videos from Libya Show Frustration

by Carolyn Presutti

Government restrictions on the media in the parts of Libya controlled by Moammar Gadhafi make it difficult to get uncensored news out of Tripoli. But a VOA correspondent has contacts in Libya and has received videos over the Internet that apparently show examples of government repression.  We want to to share these videos with you and dissect what it is they show.

This is just a sample of the amateur videos sent to a correspondent's email account at Voice of America.  The sender is a source  I trust, and have used before. This source says the video shows forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi abusing volunteer soldiers and rebel prisoners.

This interview comes from a different source. Both he and the woman are risking their lives in Green Square in Tripoli where Gadhafi supporters typically gather for demonstrations.  

"We are the people who are fighting for the Libyan people," she said.

Media experts say these videos are typical of what now comes out of conflict zones.  

Susan Moeller is director of the International Center for Media at the University of Maryland. She says together the videos are persuasive.

"Here we are seeing little snippets of individual pixilated people who are saying ‘I’m against Gadhafi, in favor of outside intervention,'" said Moeller. "But they want us to see them all and say, 'Oh, okay the full picture we get is there's a lot of people who see this and maybe we should think this too.'"

Some of the interviews are accompanied by accurate English translations.  This man is joking about Libya's government, while several people record him on their mobile phones.

"Our killed people will end up in paradise, but your killed people will go to hell," he said.

In another video, the same man is lying in a truck, purportedly captured by Gadhafi loyalists.

"You dare to insult Moammar, you dog.  You are a traitor," yells a male voice.

The Gadhafi government restricts journalists to one hotel in Tripoli.  They cannot leave without an official escort and are only allowed to cover events sanctioned by the government.   That's why these videos are so rare.  But their rarity also makes them suspect.

Christine Fair with Georgetown University says you - the viewer - need to decide if Internet videos are authentic.

"Once these videos go viral, they move very quickly and they are very powerful," said Fair. "This also means however that it's somewhat easy to fabricate somewhat dodgy [shaky] looking video from a phone."

"It's definitely not normal life," said a Libyan woman.

This woman from Tripoli is being interviewed in front of what the shooter says is the naval barrack on the outskirts of the capital.

"It's safe, it's just frustrating not being able to say what we want to," she said. "I never really thought I'd be happy to have my country bombed by anybody.  You find yourself saying a new prayer for the pilots' safety."  

Most of these opposition fighters agree on the fate of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, including this man from Tripoli.

"He will not stay.  Impossible.  If he stays it means that we will die.  All of Libya will die," he said.

Government soldiers disagree:

"Lift your head, you dog.  Long live Moammar," says a man's voice.

The senders of these videos say many Libyan cities have an acute communication crisis.  They have occasional Internet access and can only speak through satellite phones.  Or, through smuggled images like these.