Dbaiba Expands Powers of Walid Al-Lafi, After Conflict with Foreign Ministry’s Head of External Media – Al Marsad

The Prime Minister of the Government of National Unity (GNU), Abdul Hamid Dbaiba, issued his decision No. 301 of 2021 on certain provisions regarding the Department of Communication and Information of the Council of Ministers. Dbaiba has expanded the powers of Walid al-Lafi in various fields. Dbaiba also withdrew the powers of the External Media Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and granted them to al-Lafi, after a dispute between al-Lafi and the head of the department who threatened to prosecute him. 

(LIBYA, 16 August 2021) – The decision no. 301 states in Article No.1, the amendment of the designation of the Department of Communication and Information in the organizational structure of the Council of Ministers of the GNU to be the Department of Information and Government Communication, which is headed by Walid al-Lafi in his capacity as the Minister of State for Communication and Political Affairs.

New responsibilities were added in Article No. 2 of the decision, and this is in addition to the responsibilities originally assigned to the administration. Media professionals considered this a violation of the text of the definition of the administrative portfolio granted to Walid al-Lafi when Abdul Hamid a-Dbaiba presented his government to the House of Representatives (HoR).

These new responsibilities include supervising the various media platforms and following up on the quality of the content published on all audio, print, and visual media by the Council of Ministers of the GNU, under the guidelines to be followed that are in line with the goals of national reconciliation, stability, and support for the political process.

The decision did not clarify the professional code of conduct to be followed by Walid al-Lafi, given that he also directs private media institutions such as February TV, Salam TV, and an advertising and production company. Both the advertising and production company seem to be receiving all the media bids offered by the government and various ministries—including organizing events such as the last of which at Leptis Magna on International Youth Day at a cost of tens of thousands of Libyan dinars. The conflict of interest here, given al-Lafi’s ministerial post and his private companies, seems obvious.

The terms of reference indicated that this includes everything related to supporting and protecting freedom of expression, stopping hatred, and supporting national unity, while it also includes the implementation of procedures and recommendations related to supporting the press and protecting and assisting all media workers. As for the protection of workers in the private field, the decision has yet to be made.

Other requirements that have been added include supervising the implementation of development plans and programs for workers in all media platforms affiliated with the Council of Ministers of the GNU, concluding contracts for satellite frequencies, and proposing the Council’s media platforms and those who manage them.

This sparked criticism from many because Walid Al-Lafi is a staunch representative of a particular movement, the political Islamist movement, and is close to Abdelhakim Belhaj and Ali Al-Sallabi. Many have argued that Walid al-Lafi abuses his position to further a monopoly of the media institutions in the country to fully favour his Islamist interests, rather than allowing fair media representation for all mainstream perspectives.

According to the terms of reference, the department is responsible for following up on the disbursements approved by the Council of Ministers of the GNU for its media institutions. This is also inconsistent with the fact that Walid al-Lafi is the owner of private media channels that seek to gain advantage at the expense of the public sector.

The resolution also provides the authority the power to grant licenses for the establishment of visual and print media operating inside Libya and to regulate the work of satellite channels that broadcast from abroad and have media offices and headquarters inside Libya. This was one of the responsibilities of the External Media Department headed by Mohamed Al-Taweel, who last week issued accused Walid al-Lafi of threatening him and interfering in the case of MP Salem Gnan and his efforts to cover-up the air ambulance scandal over the players who were to received treatment for malaria in Italy.