News every second - and some of it is even correct

The fall of Tripoli was one of those modern news events where hasty reporting, based on instant but less-than-reliable sources, had some embarrassing results.

I could only assume he was being held at the Counter Terrorism Unit (CTU) from television's 24, the easiest detention centre in the world escape from.

How else to explain Saif Al Islam Qaddafi's defiantly smiling, and evidently free, figure strutting across Tripoli, less than a day after the fall of most of the capital, and reports that he had been arrested by triumphant Libyan rebels?

Having battled sleep until the early hours of Monday morning as the extraordinary scenes in Libya played out, this was a surprise to me.

His arrest had been reported across all major networks and astonishingly, in retrospect, by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

"We are going to win," the returning prodigal beamed yesterday, before adding in typical Qaddafi style, "screw the Criminal Court". Which, of course, he had just done.

Ever since the US invasion of Iraq in 1990, revolutions and wars have been deemed over as soon as CNN reporters declared them so, live on air. In the seven months from Cairo's Tahrir Square in February to Tripoli's newly-named Martyr's Square on Monday, the only way to get the latest news has been through the tweets and live segments from abnormally brave reporters on the ground. A recording of an attack by Qaddafi forces on a rebel convoy, captured by BBC reporter Rupert Wingfield-Hayes, has to be heard to be believed. Others have given their lives in pursuit of the story.

But on Sunday night, as the clock ticked down to Col Qaddafi's "zero hour", we were bombarded with information overload. Al Jazeera, in three formats: English, Arabic and Live. Al Arabiya. BBC. CNN. The Guardian's live online blog. And of course Twitter. Sound bites came so thick and fast it was hard to keep up with, or believe, everything reported. The inexperience of the rebels and the farcical statements from the Qaddafi regime hardly helped.

Speaking live from his own home to the world's media, Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim, doing a fine impression of former Iraqi Minister of Information Mohammed Saeed Al Sahaf, blasted Nato's barbarity and mourned the thousands of civilians it has killed in Tripoli. As he spoke, thousands of rebels, many in civilian clothes, poured into the capital.

On Al Arabiya the head of the Transitional National Council, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, literally laughed off a desperate last-minute offer from the Qaddafi camp for a negotiated ceasefire. Almost everyone was in agreement at this point: there was nothing left to negotiate about.

But the big question remained: where was Col Qaddafi? Not surprisingly, the online community was awash with unsourced reports, rumours and the usual nonsense: He was fighting to the bitter end; he had escaped to Algeria, possibly South Africa; he was dead. The ICC wrongly declared he had been arrested. A hasty clarification was released: it was Saif Al Islam who had been detained. In related news, the ICC is looking to hire new staff.

This shambles begs the question of where exactly the ICC was getting its news. Twitter? The understandably jubilant rebels?

Then came what surely was Col Qaddafi's last address to the Libyan people, a recorded audio message broadcast on state television. It was a predictably desperate rant, calling upon his people to defend Tripoli from the approaching "rats" and "traitors", and from inevitable colonisation.

"The French will rule you, the way the Italians did." Bullying, paranoid, delusional to the end. Juxtaposed with the extraordinary scenes of celebration in Benghazi, it was a pitiful denouement to 42 years of oppression and tyranny.

The Qaddafi regime is history, of that there is no doubt. But now it seems the battle for Tripoli is not quite over, as we were led to believe on Monday morning. The saga may yet have one more twist.

In the meantime, the world - with the possible exception of Syrian president Bashar Al Assad - sits, waits and watches.

Published: August 24, 2011 04:00 AM


Editor's Picks
Sign up to:

* Please select one