Op-Ed: Mainstream media get basic facts wrong on Libya

Posted Dec 14, 2015 by Ken Hanly
On reading many articles on Libya, I have been shocked at the fact that professional news organizations such as Reuters, AFP, and the BBC have reported as facts statements that are demonstrably false. This article presents a number of examples.
United Nations special envoy for Libya  Martin Kobler.
United Nations special envoy for Libya, Martin Kobler.
Fethi Belaid, AFP/File
For over a year, the UN has been trying, through what is known as the Libyan dialogue, to broker a deal, the Libya Political Agreement (LPA), between the two rival Libyan governments, the internationally-recognized House of Representatives(HoR) based in the east in Tobruk, and the rival General National Congress(GNC) based in Tripoli. Towards the end of his term this fall, then-UN Special Envoy Bernardino Leon was able to present a final draft of the LPA with names of senior members of the associated Government of National Accord (GNA) to the two parliaments. When Martin Kobler took over from Leon on Nov. 17, neither parliament had voted on the issue even though Leon had exerted considerable pressure for them to do so.
Kobler carried on from where Leon left off. He refused to open up the draft to amendments or to change the names of those the UN suggested as senior members of the GNA. Kobler, too, has been unable to have the LPA passed through either parliament. On Dec. 11, Kobler gathered together members of the Libyan dialogue including some from the HoR and the GNC. The GNC has strongly rejected the suggestion that its members represented the GNC. This is in itself is unprecedented. In negotiations, the representatives of each body are authorized by that body to attend negotiations. I expect that the HoR representatives were not designated as a negotiating team either. The HoR has said nothing about what happened even though the president of the HoR supports a competing plan other members of the HoR and GNC negotiated apart from the UN. I take this as a sign that the UN is trying to arrange some deal with the HoR that would be put in jeopardy by a negative reaction from the HoR, or perhaps the HoR is hoping for such a deal.
In any event, the members of the HoR and the GNC at the Tunis meeting agreed to the LPA. Subsequently, the UN Security Council supported the move. On Sunday a large international gathering on Libya also supported Kobler's action. In describing what happened many international news outlets misrepresent the facts. There was no agreement between the two parliaments at all just between some members of each parliament present at the Tunis meeting and no doubt hand-picked by Kobler.
An AFP report claims: Libya's rival parliaments will sign a UN-sponsored agreement next week on forming a national unity government, they announced Friday, as world leaders press them to end chaos in the country. Neither parliament has announced they would sign the deal as the report claims. Read the news release of the UN by Kobler. There is no mention that the parliaments signed or even will sign next Wednesday. He speaks only of the Libya Political Dialogue coming to agreement meaning all those specifically invited to the meeting in Tunis by Kobler. There are no doubt many who did not attend or were not asked to attend who feel quite differently for example the president of the HoR and of the GNC.
The Chinese news outlet Xinhua is no better. They report: Libya's two rival parliaments announced on Friday that Dec. 16 is the date to sign the final peace agreement.
The BBC also joins the chorus misrepresenting the facts: The rival governments agreed at talks in Tunis two days ago to sign the UN-backed political agreement on Wednesday, and Mr Kerry said he expected that to go ahead. As noted, Kerry expected the rival governments to sign the UN-backed agreement on December 16. This is possible but nowhere in Kobler's news release does he suggest that the agreement needs to be approved by the two parliaments. The agreement will go ahead whether they sign or not. So far it appears that the GNC is unlikely to sign on. There has been no response from the HoR.
Why is it that professional media get the facts wrong in this case? One reason may be that Kobler's news release helps them to come to a false conclusion because of the manner in which he arranged the announcement of the agreement in Tunis: You heard what was announced by Mr. Shoueib and Mr. Makhzoum just now, the Libyan political dialogue agreed on a target date for the signature on the 16th of December. Mr. Makhzoum is an official of the GNC government and Shoueib of the HoR government. The GNC claimed that none of their members present represented the GNC and that Makhzoum left the negotiating committee of the GNC back in August. The president of the HoR so far has opposed the LPA but has been silent of late. Notice that Kobler says nothing of the two parliaments signing. He is careful about that. He also at least stretches the truth when he says that the Libyan political dialogue agreed on the date for signing. Only those members of the dialogue invited by the UN to the meeting, forty members in all, agreed to that. No doubt there are many members who were not there who do not agree.