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Gaddafi’s media strategy backfires

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Street art: Gaddafi depicted as a traitor to Libya, paid by Israel and being kicked out of the country by the people of Libya. Click on the image to enlarge it.

Libya has never been a friendly place for foreign journalists. A media ban kept reporters away as the uprising against strongman Muammar Gaddafi began on Feb. 17, and officials of the Gaddafi regime blasted journalists entering opposition-controlled areas last week as “outlaws” and al-Qaeda sympathizers.

Such hardball tactics, along with rambling speeches aired on Libyan state television, haven’t helped Gaddafi in the court of public opinion. So the regime is now trying to make its case though the western media, claiming the government hasn’t brutally cracked down on protesters (which it has) and that Gaddafi is firmly in control of the North African country (which he isn’t).

On Monday, Gaddafi made such arguments to ABC News’ Christine Amanpour – no stranger to dealing with authoritarian leaders – and journalists from the Times of London and BBC. “All my people love me,” Gadhafi insisted. “They would die to protect me.”

Despite the government’s attempt to get in front of the story, journalists arriving in Tripoli since Saturday aren’t reporting back a story that matches Gaddafi’s rhetoric.

New York Times reporter David Kirkpatrick, in the lead article in Sunday’s paper, described how Gaddafi’s media ploy backfired as “foreign journalists he invited to the capital discovered blocks of the city in open defiance of his authority.” The government tried to sanitize the appearance of destabilizing unrest, and even picked the drivers who shuttled around the media. But that didn’t work.

“In some ways, the mixed results of Colonel Gaddafi’s theatrical gamble—opening the curtains to the world with great fanfare, even though the stage is in near-chaotic disarray—are an apt metaphor for the increasingly untenable situation in the country,” Kirkpatrick noted.

NBC’s Jim Maceda had a similar take. On Monday’s “Today” show, Maceda noted the “irony” in finally allowing western journalists in the country only to have them see the opposition taking control just 30 miles outside Tripoli.

“That strategy completely backfired,” Maceda said, adding that the images now being broadcast to the world make “Gadhafi look even weaker and more cornered” than before.


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