Pasadena, Calif. • In one of his last acts as U.S. ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens put together a group of Libyan journalists and sent them to the U.S. on a tour of media outlets.
A day after receiving news that their friend Stevens was killed by protestors at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, the group of seven Libyan reporters and other media professionals visited The Pasadena Star-News to exchange ideas about journalism in the U.S.
The journalists said Ambassador Stevens was a wonderful and kind person who was known to have breakfast with Libyans in local cafes and eat at families’ homes.
“He believed in us when other doubted,” said Heba Shibani, a freelance media consultant, who had the opportunity to personally interview Stevens. He defended Libyans.”
The group spoke of the Libyan peoples’ deep respect for Stevens and the shock they felt over the attack on the consulate that led to Stevens’ death and that of several others. They also expressed their hope for improved relations between the two countries in the post-Moammar Gadhafi era.
“Libya has been attacked as well,” Fuad Ramadan Gritli, a Libyan radio presenter and executive manager of Radio Zone, said. “Whatever happened [at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi] has attacked us, our rights, our civilization as well. We showed sympathy. We tried to protect you guys as well as protecting our freedom. We’re both victims.”
On Thursday, a senior Libyan security official told the Associated Press that heavily armed militants used a protest of an anti-Islam film, produced in Duarte, as a cover in the fatal attack on the U.S. Consulate in Beghazi.
The official, eastern Libya’s deputy interior minister, also said that four suspects had been arrested and more were being sought.
A few of the journalists in Pasadena Thursday said they were dismayed that some U.S. media went with what they described as inflammatory headlines, and some articles seemed to gloss over the fact that several Libyans were also killed in the attack as they rushed to defend the Americans.
Youniss Bishar, a TV media consultant, said the Benghazi attack on the U.S. consulate was committed by a “small group” of people who don’t represent how most Libyans feel.
“The majority of Libyans do respect the role of the U.S. in the revolution,” he said.
He also said that Libyans are not extremist, just “very emotional.”
Some young and uneducated people may not understand that a film made in America that is anti-Islam, for example, has nothing to do with the U.S. government or its policies, Bishar said.
Several journalists agreed that it was their role to help educate the masses in their country and to clear up misconceptions.
One Arab report, for example, said “Innocence of Muslims” which sparked the riots in the Middle East was going to be aired in many American theaters - something that hasn’t happened.
While many Libyans were very upset about the film, they said, they were also shocked and upset by the deadly assault on the U.S. consulate.
Regarding the anti-Islam film, Monier Al Gaawod, a deputy programs manager for Libya Al Hurra TV, suggested the U.S. come up with guidelines or even laws that restrict attacks on Islam, similar to guidelines that restrict anti-Semitic rhetoric in some countries.
The delegation was scheduled to fly home on Friday. The visit included stops in Washington D.C., Syracuse, New York, Reno, Nevada and Pasadena.