by Dominique Soguel
BENGHAZI, Libya (AFP) – Newspapers and magazines are mushrooming in Libya's rebel capital Benghazi where a new generation of media entrepreneurs, unshackled from government censorship, is thriving.
The son of Fathi al-Jahmy, a prominent pro-democracy Libyan dissident who died after going into a coma while in solitary confinement, is chipping into Panorama, a multi-lingual weekly newspaper, as its political reporter.
"My father had many principles that I hope to advance," said Ahmed al-Jahmy.
Jahmy, a young man in jeans and black T-shirt, looked around nervously during an interview, unconvinced that the prized new-found freedom is a given or that the regime's spooks were truly gone.
"Don't speak so loudly, you just don't know" he reprimanded his colleague Ziad who had launched into an analysis on whether there was a real risk of fundamentalism gaining ground in a practising but moderate Muslim society.
"There was no freedom of expression before," Jahmy, 27, told AFP with a wry, apologetic smile.
"Under (Libyan leader Moamer) Kadhafi there was no way of starting a newspaper without security clearance, and every newspaper had to have Kadhafi's Green Book slogans at the top of the front page."
The main papers before Libya's second city became the opposition's bastion -- the self-dubbed "Free Libya" -- were government newspaper Akhbar Benghazi and Al-Qurayna, under the grip of Kadhafi's son Seif al-Islam.
"The press before was all by Kadhafi and making him look like an angel," said Miehad Mahana, 20, an engineering and architecture student turned English editor.
"Now we can say whatever we want and we want the world to hear us: we don't want Kadhafi. We win or we die. We want to show the world the brave Libya that is willing to die to be free," she added.
Panorama launches its second edition on Tuesday, the fruit of 22 young Libyans, men and women under 30, who worked countless hours to produce a publication containing articles in Arabic, English, French and Italian.
The first 2,000 copies cost them "575 dinars exactly," which the team itself paid, meaning they will eventually have to put a price on what is now a free weekly or find sympathetic financing.
"We want to show the real Libya... the poverty despite oil profits and all the problems that are a fall-out from Kadhafi: the high unemployment, the corruption, our polluted coastline," said Ziad.
The collapse of censorship, he said, opened many doors. But social norms still set some barriers, with values such as women's modesty pushing their female colleagues to return home early or women to refuse being photographed.
"When a woman is taking the picture it is more comfortable for women because of our culture and religion but some still do not accept to be photographed and we respect that," explained Rona Issam Quleissa, 21, the team's photographer.
Libya is witnessing the rise of a new generation of media entrepreneurs who are passionate but still figuring out the nuts and bolts of the business: from printing costs and distribution strategy to ethics and fact-checking.
Their efforts are impressing an older generation of intellectuals, who still recall their own secretive student meetings underscored by the fear that Kadhafi's revolutionary committees would eavesdrop or barge in to blow them up.
"Anyone can start a newspaper now, but most people doing this are young, and that's a real pleasure to see," said Ramadan Jabrou, a Benghazi-based lawyer and writer.
"There is a sense of initiative, a new mindset. Never mind the materials -- they are doing it," said writer and diplomat Idris Tayeb Lamin.
"Before the revolution I don't think I saw my son read a newspaper once, but now he leaves home at eight in the morning and comes back at one the next morning because he's working on a magazine."
His son Yussef works for Ashab (Friends), a 32-page colour magazine written in the Libyan dialect by young people for young people, covering a range of topics from the serious to the light-hearted.
"We write in dialect and slang so that people can relate to it because people were sick of the formal language of the regime," said Yussef.
Most of the magazine's 16 staff -- a growing number measured against the shrinking stack of lunchtime sandwiches -- were born between 1986 and 1994.
"There's a blast of motivation and ambition to meet our goals," said Mohammed Bozeid, 23, the editor.
The splash headline they hope to see on the next edition's cover?
"The fall of Kadhafi."