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BBC staff attacked in Libya

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Liliane Landor | 21:30 UK time, Thursday, 10 March 2011

On the 20 February, on this blog, BBC World News Editor Jon Williams wrote: "Reporting from Libya is tricky at the best of times - clearly, the situation there right now is anything but."

Feras Killani (L) and Goktay Koraltan at a hotel in Tripoli, Libya, on 9 March 2011

Feras Killani (L) and Goktay Koraltan

Never a truer word spoken. Nevertheless, the BBC deployed on the ground in Tripoli and the "liberated" areas, as well as at the borders with Egypt and Tunisia. Our reporters are working hard for our domestic and global audiences to make sense of a complex and fragmented story that came hard on the heels of Tunisia and Egypt and yet is so radically different.

The BBC's news gathering operation is flawlessly run. Nothing is ever left to chance. All our reporters and correspondents go through a strict and robust safety training, equipped to deal with the most unpredictable of situations. So, with our BBC Arabic team working with their English colleagues in Tripoli and elsewhere under the watchful eye of our Middle East bureau chief Paul Danahar, I was confident everything was taken care of.

But it would be untrue to say that I didn't expect "the call", the editor's nightmare come true. And "the call" did come.

Paul rang London to say our BBC Arabic team in Tripoli had been detained by pro-Gaddafi forces. Feras Killani, Goktay Koraltan, and Chris Cobb-Smith had been arrested at a military checkpoint outside the city of Zawiya.

Now that they've told their story and are safely out of Libya, we know that they were then taken to a massive military compound in Tripoli where they were blindfolded, handcuffed, and beaten. And we know that for 21 hours they were subjected to physical violence and psychological terror at the hands of Colonel Gaddafi's security forces.

They were kicked around, threatened with death, hooded and blindfolded, left in a cage and subjected to mock executions.

Feras, a correspondent of Palestinian descent, was singled out for special treatment.

"[They] took me out to the car park behind the guard room. Then [they] started hitting me without saying anything. First with fist, then boots, then knees. Then [they] found a plastic pipe on the ground and beat me with that. Then one of the soldiers gave them a long stick ..."

It continued later, only this time it was even worse:

"I was on the floor on my side, hands and feet cuffed, lying half on a mattress, and they were beating me... They were saying I'm a spy working for British intelligence."

You could argue this is pretty terrible but after all nothing new; journalists around the world face this kind of violence every day in the course of their work. The Committee to Protect Journalists lists 850 reporters killed since 1992. The BBC World service lost two journalists over a 48-hour period in June 2008, when Samad Rohani of the Afghan Service and Nasteh Dahir of the Somali Service were killed in their respective countries. And of course we all recall the four-month ordeal of Alan Johnston, kidnapped and held by militants in Gaza.

But this is not just a story about journalists and the dangers they face in doing their jobs. This is a story about torture and hidden victims, and what happens when there is no one to tell it and lift the veil.

When Feras, Gotkan and Chris were put in a metal cage, they could hear the screams of people being tortured. Soon those people were brought into the cage, men and women, Libyans and non Libyans, some in a terrible state. Their story has to be told.

As he was being beaten, Feras was told by the Libyans that they didn't like his reports. He was being punished for the content of his journalism - that he, like every single one of our journalists, works hard at ensuring impartiality, that he reports in Arabic, on a BBC channel available in Libya, in a language understood by those meeting out the beatings, only made matters worse for him.

Our journalists are tested every day and Libya is but the latest in a series of conflicts they're covering. Some like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, are among the toughest stories to report. Yet when tensions run high and violence becomes the norm, we need to be there, with the insightful, in-depth coverage that only being on the ground can yield.

Liliane Landor is languages controller of BBC Global News


  • Comment number 1.

    If sholder held SAM missels were supplied with instructions, the rebles would shurly establish NO FLY zones especially to "choppers"

  • Comment number 2.

    We all hope that your crew make a full recovery. However, the BBC seems strangely blind to a certain type of "hidden victim", namely Christians - the most persecuted people on earth. Why can I find no mention in the flawlessly run and largest News gathering organisation on Earth of the church 30 miles south of Cairo, which was torched by a very large mob, shouting "Democracy Akhbar" (Google it), and whose clergy are still missing? Why would that be, Liliane?

  • Comment number 3.

    It alarms me that the UN are always so slow to react when there is a clear need for intervention. People are being maimed and killed by Gadaffi and his henchmen yet all the UN members do is sit on the fence because they are afraid of backing the losing side
    The threat, made by governmental heads, that these people will be made to account for their misdeeds are like water off a ducks back.
    I applaud France for being the first nation to make a stand in recognizing the legitimacy of the Libyan protesters. It's better to make a stand, than to do nothing at all!!!!

  • Comment number 4.

    Profound thanks are owed to all professional journalists and intrepid reporters around the world, and most emphatically to these brave colleagues of yours. Glad they are safe and sound. Our prayers for all those in danger zones out there, and may God keep them safe...

    This harrowing tale shocked me because, to be honest, I did not expect the lunatic's regime would have the temerity to engage in such brutality against journalists -- and even their own people.

    The details of these tortures are appalling. Col MQ is a worthy follower of the Stalin school of government.

    Kindly note that Alcuin (No. 2) also has a point. There have been atrocities committed against Christians that deserve to have more coverage.

    Regimes that brutalise minorities are likely to brutalise majorities as well, in due course...

  • Comment number 5.

    This is going to be a significant test for the West.

    If they do nothing - and Gaddafi crushes the rebellion - it will set a precedent across the middle east and Africa that might is right and that escalating violence against your people is a proven method of retaining power.

    If however they intervene and take sides with the rebels - every despot and dictator in the Arab world and beyond will most probably start to wonder when their time is next.

  • Comment number 6.

    Gary, you reckon this a 'test for the West', writing: 'If they do nothing - and Gaddafi crushes the rebellion - it will set a precedent across the middle east and Africa that might is right'.

    The precedent that 'might is right' has already been set by the USA in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, what with US boots on the ground and killer drone sorties.

    Maria - you write: 'The details of these tortures are appalling'. Certainly, no one agrees with what these hard-working, professional journalists went through, viz: "They were kicked around, threatened with death, hooded and blindfolded, left in a cage and subjected to mock executions."

    But it all sounds eerily similar to what people endured at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, does it not?

    When the good guys get involved in the same type of torture carried out by the bad guys, calls to moral authority are weakened.

  • Comment number 7.

    Not nice what happened to these chaps, and relieved they survived to tell their tale.

    'On the 20 February, on this blog, BBC World News Editor Jon Williams wrote: "Reporting from Libya is tricky at the best of times - clearly, the situation there right now is anything but."

    Rather begging the question why, having closed the blog in question, there was no more on the difficulties in reporting, when there seem to be an awful lot of it in the interim, albeit from the couch of the good Colonel or rear seat of his mini.Col son's SUV.

  • Comment number 8.

    Maybe its time BBC or other media invested in drones and make available the true reality of such situations instead of reporting on the fringe while not putting people at so much risk.

  • Comment number 9.

    There is no shock value in any of this, it is the norm of these situations. I think these BBC reporters were very very lucky that they worked for BBC, because had they not, had they just been people just picked up, then I really doubt the executions would have been "mock".

  • Comment number 10.

    From explanations given by experts at the time of the disaster in Indonesia in 2000 I understand that the term tsunami properly belongs to a giant wave of tidal, i.e. regular gravitational, origin due to the effect of the moon. This one, like that of 2000, was of seismic origin, not tidal, and therefore not a tsunami.

  • Comment number 11.

    #6 Your point being?

    I neither supported the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan once it became clear that both policies were mired in dubious intelligence and a questionable intent by the Bush Administration.

    I don't agree with the extra judicial incarcerations of people without the right to a fair trial or the use of force to impress upon someone your ideal of democracy or authoritarian rule.

    I simply said that the way things are going - the west has two choices, neither of which look very palatable. If your inference was that I either supported American-esque interventionism or would welcome it - you are sadly mistaken. I am merely a bystander - picking sides in a fight that has nothing to do with me is the height of arrogance.

  • Comment number 12.

    Although I praise the courage of BBC reports, covering Libya events, if I could make a criticism, it would be in that, after listening most of the interview with Gaddafi and son, I have never come across any reporter, asking the question whether (after these demonstrations) the regime, would be willing to share, some of the sovereign wealth accumulated through the years, with the people of Libya. Then we could see the true colors of Geddafi family and clan.

  • Comment number 13.

    well I guess the western world is taking a very interesting stand to this mindless meyhem in Libya..specially when CHINA ( the most powerful mililary in ther world today .. thanks to budget cuts ensuing in NATO ..)
    Its like this in typical asian lingo " We are EXTREME good neighbours .. you can go ahead and hit your wife and kids .. we will not complain or intervene!"
    By the way we know how it is ..its extremely hard to forget who controls the oil in Libya .. so as long as the rebels cannot themselves fight back and regain the oil terminals they can forget any support from the so called western powers.. THEY do not care about the thousands of innocent dead libyans on the street ... I do not think the world has forgotten about RWANDA.
    Only worry is if AQ really intervenes and help these freedom loving common man in LIBYA .. world will be really a much fearful place to live in...

  • Comment number 14.

    This is an easy one to answer isn'tit

    Just bring the reporters home and concentrate of what we the brit public want without the brainwashing by the mp's and ministers.

    We want our tax money spent on the NHS, roads, education, council services (what a joke), pensions, jobs and mortgages for the people who are losing their houses and to hell with overseas aid and spending.

    It also amazes me with the minimal coverage of the New Zealand and Japan catastrophies. You can garranttee if this was in africa (libya-egypt-black africa), india the coverage time would be 90% of the viewing time.

    Why do the BBC glorify the 3rd world countries it amazes me why they do this

  • Comment number 15.

    I see the United Arab League now sanction a "No fly zone"
    It is desperately needed...
    The UAR and their mates have spent millions on arms and aircraft over the years....I suggest they now put them to good use instead of expecting us to impose it.....

  • Comment number 16.

    I find some of these comments distasteful. The BBC is about the only news service that provides news from around the world without owners swinging the political points of view of their "owners". As to the coverage of Japan New Zealand etc.. the BBC has done more that CNN and NBC. Maybe one should also be informed about overseas aid (BBC receives none) and their coverage of Libya has been exceptional. At least the BBC still has overseas reporters which is more than can be said for other so called "news" channels that just read off the web

  • Comment number 17.

    You, BBC are very bias. Right from the begining of the Libya conflict, you took the rebel's side. You always interviewed opeople who supported the rebels and gave us their version as the absolute truth. There has not given any evidence of their wild claims, but you expected us to believe everything they say. You became the speakers of the rebels. Who are these people? We have not seen any great deomonstration for them from Libyans not even in Bengazi, as we have seen in Egyp, Tunis or Yemen. They are some militants who like to stablish a government like Taliban. Well of course they love the West to fight their war as Mojahedin in Afghanistan were eager to get West's help. But what became of them later? The same will happen with these rebels. I am sure most people of Libya are terrified and afraid of them and hiding at their homes because of them. Now it comes to your journalists. As they have so far supported the rebels, they should not have expected any favor from the government troops. I watched them on your Channel. They seemed to be in good shape and certainly not like someone who has been subject to any torture. So I don't beleive they have been tortured. They should interview the former prisoners of Abu Gharib to realize what torture is, of course those of them who escaped alive.

  • Comment number 18.

    Our politicians have lost their "train of thought" in Libya issue. In GB’s position, we should not fight for the Libyans’ democracy, because it is not directly relevant to us. We can only offer the rebels' supports.

    However, as a customer of Libya’s oil, we can always demand for fairness, security and modernisation in trading; and further condemn Gaddafi’s incompliance in international trading rules. This thinking maybe more appealing to other nations.

  • Comment number 19.

    Our sympathy goes out to the brave journalists trying to cover a rough story.
    But it is surprising that the arrest, interrogation and abuse of Paul Martin by Hamas in Gaza, about a year after the imprisonment there of Alan Johnston did not make the cut of cases to be recalled.
    Nor did the very destructive (to the effort to report honestly) and oft-whispered but never officially confronted intimidation of BBC and other journalists in Lebanon (by Hizballa), the nose-leading restriction of movement by government minders in Syria, the prohibition of free movement and coverage in Saudi Arabia make the grade in your list of obstacles to honest, informative coverage.
    These obstacles are not set in place only by the villain of the day, but by every autocratic or dictatorial regime in the Middle East, as well as those easy to disdain failed states like Somalia and Afghanistan.
    Real honesty on the part of BBC would acknowledge that all this violence and intimidation HAS affected the content you can convey, has created an imbalance in the image of the region that has itself become an influence on how the British and wider international public perceive events.
    And we have not yet even begun to consider the influence of prejudicial views held by some of your very own staff in the field and at home.
    A news organization as large and powerful as BBC really has no excuse for the partial, good guy-bad guy immaturity of its output.

  • Comment number 20.

    What is a *world* United Nations Security Council?

    Is it a forum for defining best action to give security to peoples of the world, and then effecting that action using the services of the nations of the world in united action?

    Does the world United Nations Security Council have to wait for permission of
    some african congress,
    some arab/muslim aggregation,
    some rag-bag of south american nations,
    some affiliation of leftist revolutionary workers parties,
    some world aggregation of trade unions,
    before it can act to protect communities under attack?

    What has the world come to . . . . . . that we have become so timid that we allow the pressure groups of the world to run roughshod over the higher interest of protecting the peoples of the world. (This is NOT a question, it is a rhetotical statement of frustration).

  • Comment number 21.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 22.

    However unpleasant what the BBC staff suffered,it is nothing compared to the massacres and tortures which would follow a Khadafi victory. In addition,thousands of these Libyans will try to escape to Europe, the needed foreign labourers will not return,and Libya will prefer to sell its oil to the Chinese & others who were less against him.It is disgraceful how our institutions & politicians seem to be impotent to avoid these bad consequences on so many groups of innocent people.
    And yet....the simple presence of high flying NATO jets would probably be enough to make Khadafi wary of using his air power against civilians & rebels.

  • Comment number 23.

    Could I suggest that the BBC and other news agencies drop the use of rank when refering to the opposed Lybian Gaddafi. The militatary rank confirms an authority he does not have, Mr or Muammar would be more appropriate for a the bully he is.

  • Comment number 24.

    Was it Blake who said a hundred years ago "For evil to triumph,it is sufficient for good men to do nothing". I suppose our Western politicians are mostly good men,
    but today, we have allowed to be introduced so many hurdles that they have become largely impotent.

  • Comment number 25.

    I know this is not directly about the BBC staff being attacked, however,I find it scandalous that the BBC has failed to report the following mass demonstration that took place in the Lebanon yesterday:

    Tens of thousands of Lebanese opposition supporters on Sunday demanded Hezbollah be disarmed as they rallied to mark the sixth anniversary of a popular uprising against Syrian troops in the country.

    Lebanon's opposition has accused Hezbollah, the only party not to have turned in its arms after the 1975-1990 civil war, of having used its arsenal to intimidate MPs into voting against Hariri's re-appointment after his unity cabinet collapsed.

    I am convinced that if this had been a pro--Hezbollah demonstration the BBC would have given this coverage, as it is the BBC have failed to mention this story on its website or on any of its news channels.

    I believe this is called bias as the demonstrators were mostly Christian.

  • Comment number 26.

    Yes, #25,

    I too am very disappointed about the very partial nature of BBC world coverage and reporting.

    I tend to go to other news sources for my information. It helps me gain perspective and background for my blog comments on the BBC sites.

  • Comment number 27.

    A brutal regime will respond with brutal actions. Hope there wasn't any surprises. Reporters possess no special status in this world, except in their own minds. Many people are beaten and killed in Libya..All to often the story becomes the media.

  • Comment number 28.

    In order to find a story about Libya on the homepage of your website, I had to scroll down to the bottom and click on "Editors blog'". I am very sad to see, that in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the continuing horror story of the Libyan people who are being killed because they are fighting for freedom, has been nearly forgotten. I understand that what happened, and is still happening in Japan is awful, but does that mean we should all forget about the Libyan people? How can the rest of the world just standby and do nothing to help them?

  • Comment number 29.

    28. At 02:47am on 15 Mar 2011, lilyjamaica

    Ratings = market rate 'talent' rewards.

    No matter how uniquely the media entity is funded or what its remit should be.

    Mind you, being spared Mr. Bowen 'drawing his own conclusions' [ ] on matters nuclear as well is, perhaps, a mercy.

  • Comment number 30.

    The Libyan opposition lost the battle the moment they picked up arms. They lost the 'political' capital, which they seemed to have built in initial days. Now it is conflict between two armed groups -- one much superior than the other.

  • Comment number 31.

    On the plus side, half the BBC seems to have decamped to Tokyo, to 'help'.

    Though how that is achieved by consuming scare resources and comms links, whilst undermining the government with dark mutterings on not sparing the time for proper press briefings in the midst of a massive humanitarian crisis in a non-English speaking land, eludes me.

    Especially when they seem to have gone there mainly to talk back to folk, on our behalf, who are still here.

    Shock and awe.

    Maybe we should export them to Libya?

  • Comment number 32. country moves so very quickly in support of 'government protestors'. It is a policy that doesn't require many facts...more just to do with helping the underdog, so democratic and so easy to support in the media. A common theme is to throw out the ruling party..friend or foe. It is a policy that is quite selective though. In Libya and Egypt it is quite clear which side we are on. I didn't much fanfare of support for the protestors up against the invading Saudi force in Baharain though.

    I guess we are finding out that there are so many places in Africa and the Middle-East that need US and our support of the lowly 'protestors' that we may need to create a new department for cheerleading...good place for BamaBiden

  • Comment number 33.

    Of course the Japanese humanitarian and atomic situation should have precedence over other news items today but is that any excuse to remove the Libyan issue from the 'Have your Say' board?

    Maybe this is because Saudi Arabian forces have either invaded or allegedly 'been invited' by the Bahrain government to quell protests against the government and its hardly been mentioned at all in the BBC News because it's obviously inconvenient to brand Saudi rulers in the same light as Gadaffi.

    What crass hypocrisy and double-standards by you news executives in the Beeb. You must think every household in the UK is completely blinkered!

  • Comment number 34.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 35.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 36.

    19. analytica wrote:

    Real honesty on the part of BBC would acknowledge that all this violence and intimidation HAS affected the content you can convey, has created an imbalance in the image of the region that has itself become an influence on how the British and wider international public perceive events.
    And we have not yet even begun to consider the influence of prejudicial views held by some of your very own staff in the field and at home.
    A news organization as large and powerful as BBC really has no excuse for the partial, good guy-bad guy immaturity of its output.

    I agree 100% with this. The BBC has been letting the public down badly for some time now. We don't need the news filtered through a BBC agenda.

    17. MaryMagdalane wrote:

    They seemed to be in good shape and certainly not like someone who has been subject to any torture.

    It's difficult to get an idea of what really happened there with so many inconsistencies in the stories of the three journalists. Certainly Feras did not look at all bruised a few days after his allegedly severe beating. And Cobb-Smith stated that he stepped aside to face a gap in the wall during the "mock execution." But he also said they all had hoods over their heads, so how could he have seen the gap in the wall?

    This makes one wonder how the reports of these journalists on other issues can be trusted.

  • Comment number 37.

    The staff were simply casualties of war. These type of things are to be expected under the circumstances.

  • Comment number 38.

    Irregardless of whether the bbc reports are biased and inacurate to some degree and the supposed torture of the three journalists might or might not have taken place, the facts still remain. The people of Lybia who are fighting for freedom and democratic rights are being seriously hampered by the inactivity and procrastination of both NATO and The United Nations. Sanctions and threats of prosecution of those commiting what can only be described as genocide against their own people simply for want freedom, justice, and democracy for the those who live in Lybia seem to be doing nothing at all. Why is it if someone commits murder in any country where legal proceedures are valued are either arrested and jailed or in some extreme cases put to death or threatens the rule of every basic interpretation of democratic rights to change the way society functions to protect it's civilians from tyrany the western world and the UN act very quickly to stop it they do nothing to prevent a repitition of the situation which occurred in Rawanda and other places like Kosovo and Bosnia as well as others and here they do nothing but talk and talk and talk. Talk is cheap, what is needed here is action and it should have happened as soon as it was revealed that Col. Gadaffi had bought in mercineries from elsewhere in Africa (probably the same ones who committed attrocities in places like Rawanda and Siera Leone). Why does it not occur to the rest of the world (including Russia and China who seem to veto everything) that what Gadaffi is doing is not only wrong but also criminal. I only hope the leaders of NATO and the UN security council who have sat on their hands for all this time are procuted in the Hague for aiding and abetting the deaths and torture that is so obviously happening in Lybia.

  • Comment number 39.

    Oh, so reporters are equipped to handle such situations, are they? Then why have those in Japan been chasing around for petrol when it's already in short supply and required for rescue operations (a BIT more important) and borrowing blankets from tsunami victims whose need is far greater.

    I do think the BBC 12-year olds should start to live in the real world, cease sending prominent news presenters to disaster areas simply to say "I was there" to their family and friends, and to keep telling us what we can see with our own eyes. Leave it to the reporters who were there already, and who have a greater affinity with the indigenous population.

  • Comment number 40.

    Liliane, I think what is going on with the African revolts and those in the Middle East at the moment will inevitably make it unsafe for anyone working in those areas in any capacity - let alone foreign journalists who would most likely be considered as allies of those causing the unrest rather than being partial to the respective autocrat.

    It is unfortunate and sad that the BBC Arabic team had been detained and abused - it does go with the territory in their chosen field though. Their work is certainly appreciated by at least one avid reader - thank you! I look forward to reading more as the North African revolutions unfold and the call for change spreads to other areas in the Middle East.


  • Comment number 41.

    While it is very harrowing for the news people involved and one has full sympathy for them it is part of the job and I think the BBC has had a much poorer cover in Libya since Simpson seems to have left. Is this due to the Japan crisis as some have said? The worst aspect is to have someone in Tobruk reporting on events in Benghazi when Benghazi is safe enough for Al Jazeera and obviously 750,000 inhabitants! If the correspondents dont want the danger of reporting on a front line or relative front line then they should not be correspondents and should do gardening reports. To supplement the lack of cover on the rebel side with propaganda from Tripoli is a bit unforgiveable. The result has been one sided and less interesting than the blogs which are showing clips from Misrata etc which to my knowledge has no correspondents yet is playing a vital role in denying Gaddafi's claim to have stopped all military operations.

  • Comment number 42.

    No info on the BBC about the journalists attacked and beaten a few days ago by Hamas, who also took their cameras when they tried to cover demonstrations in favour of Hamas-Fatah unity?

  • Comment number 43.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 44.

    "I was on the floor on my side, hands and feet cuffed, lying half on a mattress, and they were beating me... They were saying I'm a spy working for British intelligence."

    The scenario conveyed sounds absolutely terrifying, I can't truly imagine what it would be like. My thanks to those who risk their own physical well being for truth's sake.
    [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]Ergonomics

  • Comment number 45.

    Firstly, wish your reporters well...but all journalists are now targets when it concerns evil megalomaniacs. As we saw in Cairo, Anderson Cooper of CNN was roughed up & CBS's Lara Lohan was sexually assualted by same type of thugs in Egypt & who can forget your own brilliant Frank Gardner, your (now) security correspondent who is still doing a great job after the shooting on him in 2004.

    World wide, more journalists are killed doing their duty year on year, 2010 there was 26 deaths & many more injured. In the 2010 world of "Twitter" & "Facebook", even "You Tube" everyone is a journalist, especially when theres a disaster, but at the end of the day you need the professionals to confirm the different fragments of those storys & re-affirm their authenticity. & that's the most important thing about the BBC and it's reporters. The Gaddafi's of this world will always make news for the wrong reason, the BBC for one will always report that news for every reason, but especially for the "Truth"!

  • Comment number 46.

    Whilst I don't condone the violence, if you put yourself in a dangerous situation then there is a chance that you will get hurt. All this talk of brave souls bringing us the truth is rubbish though. We didn't ask these people to put themselves in harms way. They do it to advance their own careers, to say " I was there on the front line". They will peddle the line that they are doing us a service by bringing us information but it is solely to get better, more exiciting, footage because at the end of the day news is entertainment. That's also why the news is sensationalised, and in the case of Lybia is completely biased.


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