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Libyan Teen's News Site Hears The Rebel Yell

JACKI LYDEN, host: In Libya, freedom of the press and the rebel-held East has a new face, in its 14 years old. Malik Mohammed started his own Facebook-based news agency and he's become a regular presence in press conferences in the rebel capital of Benghazi. He met up with our Lourdes Garcia-Navarro who has this report.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Perhaps it was had to do with security breach.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: The subject matter couldn't have been more serious - a news conference on the mysterious murder of the army chief of staff here. The man at the podium was the rebel army spokesman. Kind of an intimidating environment.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: But 14-year-old Malik Mohammed - who looks more like he's 10 - raised his hand and asked one the most pointed questions of the event. Malik has become something of a pint-sized celebrity here. He goes to every press conference and he gets chosen when he raises his hand because he's actually a good reporter. He caught the journalism bug right after he happened to come to the main hotel where international journalists stay in Benghazi.

MALIK MOHAMMED: (Foreign language spoken)

TRANSLATOR: I came to use the internet and I was amazed by all the foreign journalists. I spoke to one TV channel and they didn't help me out but then another Arab channel made me a trainee and that's how I got started.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Malik's huge white teeth split his thin brown face when he smiles - which isn't often when he's talking shop. He takes what he does very seriously, carrying around a backpack almost as big as he is on his thin shoulders. He's the eldest of seven children but says he doesn't have time to hang out with kids his own age.

MOHAMMED: (Foreign language spoken)

TRANSLATOR: People didn't take me seriously at the beginning. I didn't know many people so the only way I'd find out if there was a press conference is when all of the journalists suddenly disappeared.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But that's changed. A typical reporting day now means he gets a tip from a source - yesterday it was that a boat carrying arms to Tripoli had supposedly been captured by the rebels.

MOHAMMED: (Foreign language spoken)

TRANSLATOR: I saw that one of the Arabic news channels had confirmed the news and I thought about publishing it but then I thought no, I need to check it out myself.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So he went to the port to have a look. There was no boat so he didn't put in on his site.

Maliks's agency is pretty modest. It's called the Brega News Agency after his hometown where a large battle is currently taking place between the rebels and Gadhafi loyalists. Mali's father was a lawyer who was imprisoned under the Gadhafi regime, now he drives Malik around a lot of the time. His dad also takes Malik's calls, as he doesn't have his own cell phone. Malik gets very offended when asked if his dad helps him write his reports. The answer is a categorical no. His content is published on a Facebook page. He's put up flyers around the hotels to publicize his enterprise. He has big dreams though.

MOHAMMED: (Foreign language spoken)

TRANSLATOR: There is no independent news agency in Libya, this is the first. And God willing one day it will be the biggest.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He knows eventually he'll have to go back to school if classes start up again in the fall. Schools have been shuttered in the east since the uprising. But he has a plan for that, he's deputized a 36-year-old friend to run things while he's studying.

What makes Malik Mohammed unique here though is not his age, it's that he understands that a free press isn't just about now being able to criticize Moammar Gadhafi. His reports are pretty accurate, highlighting when there's been setbacks to the rebels on the frontline, for example, without any of the usual propaganda.

MOHAMMED: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's a free Libya now, he says. What used to happen in Gadhafi's time is over. I can criticize whomever I want. Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Benghazi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.