Beginnings

"Bashir Zabiya"

My journalistic journey began in 1974, when I was 19 years old, in the same place I am currently sitting. I had been tasked with helping the fact-checker in the news agency’s central newsroom on Al-Shatt Street. I spent six months there, doing nothing but reading articles delivered by the reporters, pulled from agencies, or received from the translation department.

As I read the news, the late Sheikh Sanousy Mokhtar, a graduate of Al-Azhar and the appointed copyeditor, revised them. Whenever he’d start editing, I took a break from reading. But one day, something funny happened. I spotted the Arabic word “wanif,” and confidently alerted Sheikh Mokhtar to what I had presumed was a typo. I told him it should be “wa nasf,” meaning: “and a half.” The Sheikh turned to me and said: “Well, now you are introducing errors, instead of correcting them.”

 

“How so?” I replied.

“Wanif,” he said, “is a word. It means a minor increase. It seems like you didn’t know that.”

“True,” I said, “I thought it was a typo.”

 

Sheikh Sanousy Mokhtar appears behind me, on the right, in this picture. On his right is the telegraphy department. The newsroom also featured the departments of translation and broadcast, which is where I met the agency’s founders: Hussein Gaddafi, the late Ali Al-Tamimi, and Mohamed Umara Al-Tagoury, among other colleagues who eventually moved on to join the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 

The editor-in-chief at the time was the late Suleiman Al-Azabi, Abdullah Fahmi was the correspondents’ director, and the late Hosni Saleh was the general manager. The newsroom also brought together esteemed mentors from Palestine, including Nabil Abu-Eita, Hussein Kaoush, Al-Aref Al-Tawil and Nabil Awaad.

The translation editor, Petrovich, was Yugoslavian. He appears in front of me in this picture, wearing prescription eyeglasses. His time at the agency ended terribly; he was accused of spying, and consequently arrested. On the subject, we heard two different accounts. The first claimed that he had been caught sending news to a foreign agency behind the Libyan authorities’ back, and the second claimed he was guilty of espionage. 

To be honest, the job bored me then. I only came to appreciate it after being transferred to work as a correspondent. That’s when I realized that after spending six months of reading six hours a day, I had accumulated plenty of knowledge about how to write a new story, how to write a lead and a tail, and when to start a new paragraph. I also learned that not all news sources were created equal. Thanks to the fact-checking sheikh, my language skills had grown stronger. I eventually came to see that time as my introduction to journalism. I was a novice, lacking in education and practice, save for the little I had learned in school and at the club. It never occurred to me then that I would end up spending years at the agency, and one day become its manager. 

Born in Tunis, he began his journalistic career at the Libyan News Agency, where he established its offices in Paris and Damascus, eventually becoming its director. He was appointed as a media advisor at the Libyan Embassy in Cairo. Currently, he is the editor-in-chief of the website and newspaper “Bawabat Al-Wasat”.

Bashir Zabiya
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