Sure, the Western media's been poking fun at Muammar Qaddafi's clothing for decades, but the relationship between the press and the Libyan ruler has grown particularly tense during the Libyan uprising. When journalists began sneaking into Libya in late February, the Qaddafi regime declared the reporters "outlaws." Qaddafi later invited foreign journalists to Tripoli for official tours of rebel-controlled towns, but the Libyan government has since restricted the reporters' access and movement in the name of security while denouncing the international media for spreading lies about the violence in the country.
The relationship turned even more sour yesterday, when foreign journalists gathered at the Rixos Hotel in Tripoli around 3 p.m. amidst rumors that Qaddafi would soon arrive and hold a news conference. When the smiling leader finally strolled in, almost eight hours later, he pumped his fists triumphantly in the air to the surging crush of journalists, gave a private interview to Turkish television, and refused to take questions from anyone else. Qaddafi's snub, the Toronto Star reports, confounded "global networks that had timed their broadcasts in anticipation of breaking news that never came."
Richard Engel's Twitter feed pretty much distills the reporters' reaction. Running up against the heightened security preceding Qaddafi's arrival, the NBC News reporter tweeted, "Its like house arrest now (hotel arrest) for reporters in tripoli. Penned in, controlled." Four hours later, he added, "The wait continues for qaddafi.. STILL.. Godot anyone?" When Qaddafi finally exited out of the hotel's back door, Engel mused, "One reporter said, we waited all day to watch qaddafi walk thru a lobby, who's crazy? Him or us?"
The Guardian's Peter Beaumont argues that the Qaddafi regime's treatment of the press--the detentions, threats, surveillance, propaganda, intimidation of sources--as well as the press's general compliance has serious consequences. "As the country becomes ever more difficult to report from, what is happening to ordinary Libyan civilians is ever more effectively being censored," he says. "And at some point, by our very presence, in being ineffective we will become accomplices in that censorship."
In his interview with Turkish TV, Qaddafi vowed to fight back if Western nations impose a no-fly zone over the country. Meanwhile, Qaddafi's forces continue their assault on rebels in the west, particularly in the strategic town of Zawiyah.