“Ali Baba climbs down from the top of the tree. He is stunned and speechless. He stands before the huge rock, looks attentively at it and shouts at the top of his voice:’ Open, Sesame!’ The rock opens onto a large cave, full of gold, silver, and precious stones.” (One Thousand and One Nights).

“Ali Baba climbs down from the top of the tree. He is stunned and speechless. He stands before the huge rock, looks attentively at it and shouts at the top of his voice:’ Open, Sesame!’ The rock opens onto a large cave, full of gold, silver, and precious stones.” (One Thousand and One Nights).

The media, and more specifically public and private satellite TV channels, lie at the root of understanding the Libyan political, economic and social landscape. They all hoist the common slogan of territorial integrity, justice, freedom, and stability. They have achieved none of these stated goals.

“Meaningless gimmick”

The fact is that the media in Libya, and elsewhere in the world, is used as a tool to serve certain political objectives or agendas. Each of these tools adopts liberal policies and embraces attitudes outlined by their financing institutions. The media aims to reflect political conflicts and internal and external interests; otherwise, it turns into an absurd and meaningless gimmick.

Some Libyan politicians create certain events and utilize the media to shape public opinion. Others spend millions of dollars on a large number of TV channels, without disclosing the identity of their financers, which raises doubts and countless risks. The poor viewers can do nothing but wait for the big explosion.

The continued rivalry between the two superpowers of the US and Russia and the consequent global alignment with these two camps has misled the people and the region.

Open, satellite!

It is the ordeal of a Libyan audience, who, just like Ali Baba, dreams of enjoying an eternal bliss when the cave opens and the shackling ‘fetters’ are destroyed. Following the February 2011 events, they found themselves beleaguered with 40 satellite TV stations with varying degree of clarity of policies and affiliations towards extreme right or left.

In March 2011, ‘Libya Al-Ahrar’ channel started transmission from the Qatari capital Doha, backed openly by Qatari funding.

In the same month, ‘Libya Al-Hurra’ (Free Libya) channel was launched. That channel was affiliated with an Islamist political movement, although its founder, the late Mohammed Nabbous, dissociated himself from that classification, when he founded it on February 19, 2011. He was assassinated a month later.

Network boom

In May 2011, another private satellite station called ‘Al-Asima’ (Capital) emerged, which supported the so-called national or civil movement, opposed to the Islamist political movement. It started its broadcasts from Tunisia and later moved to the Libyan capital. It was popular for a while.

In July 2012, the ‘Libya Al-Duwaliya’ channel was launched, which was affiliated to the alliance of national forces. In December 2014 it moved to Amman but stopped broadcasting a few months later. It also attracted a large audience and was said to have been funded by a number of entrepreneurs.

Eastern promises

The nascent private sector TV station caught on, albeit slower, in eastern Libya. Due to the shortage of technical and logistical facilities in the east, combined with power outages and poor communication infrastructure, a private TV channel called ‘Libya Awalan’ ( Libya First) was launched from neighboring Egypt. At first it focused on viewers’ problems and complaints. It was a modest, semi-professional outfit, but gradually improved. A few months after it was founded, it was totally disbanded due to corruption and embezzlement scandals related to the electoral campaigns, according to official statements by the interim government’s prime minster. Other TV channels were launched in the same period, including ‘New TV’ and ‘Watan Alkaramah TV.’

On September 2, 2012, the private Dardanelle Station was launched from Bani Walid city. It adopted a clear-cut position that stood against political Islamism and disclosed national congress’ failures, especially resolution 7 of 25/9/2012. It also defended the former regime, albeit at a lesser degree, compared to ‘Al-Khadra’ (Green) private channel, which also transmits from outside Libya.

On the other hand, other private TV channels like ‘Tobactos,’ ‘Misrata,’ and ‘Makmidas’ are headquartered in Misrata, and support the so-called revolutionaries. Their agendas brim over with terms like revolutionaries, cronies, and tyrants, and aim to play a strong inciting role at the local front.

Quick rise and fall

As rivalries over control of the central region’s coasts and oil ports emerged, the chief of the Oil Petroleum Guard central branch, Ibrahim Jadran, who was later removed, launched a TV channel named ‘Ro’ya,’ which was later changed into Barga satellite TV. It ceased to operate in September 2016, after Haftar’s Libyan army forces retook control of the ports.

In conjunction with the launch of Barga TV, other less effective TV stations appeared, including ‘Fezzan TV,’ which was launched from Sabha and was funded by a number of businessmen. During its early broadcasting days, it succeeded in attracting a large audience, responding to the region’s grievances and pursuing people’s problems in southern Libya. Later it became more closely associated with tribal movements and local conflict over regional control. Its influence gradually diminished until it finally went off air.

On August 20, 2013, the Islamic Political movement launched’ Al Nabaa’, which some viewers refer to as the ‘Libyan Al-Jazeera,’ given its resemblance in form and content to the Qatari Al-Jazeera network. It won viewers through its professional coverage of events, in addition to the attractive presentation methods. It failed to hide its agendas or disguise those of who control it, however.

Benghazi broadcasts

In late 2013, another TV channel was launched in Benghazi,  ‘Btv’, which drew a large audience thanks to its balanced attitudes amid the prevailing political rivalries and polarizations. It did not play an incitement role or side with a particular party. It stopped transmissions when rockets hit its headquarters in July 2014. Later, ‘BBN TV’ was launched. Both these TV stations belong to Benghazi’s municipal council.

Late in 2014, the Official TV channel- ‘Second,’ which belonged to the interim government at Al-Bayda emerged. It was first headquartered in Tunis, and was later shifted to Amman, Jordan. In late 2015, it was restored to Benghazi, along with the ‘Libya Al-Marah’ and ‘Libya Documentary’ channels.

On August 6, 2015, ‘Libya 218‘ channel was launched, with young presenters and light-hearted content. It was described as a liberal station dedicated to Libyan youth. It had undeclared funding sources, and its official page defines it as, “a Libyan channel focused on reporting and analyzing political developments, taking into account the entertainment aspect. It addresses all segments of society.”

On December 16, 2015, the Istanbul-based Arraed Network launched ‘Arraed’ Channel, which had openly supported the political Islam movement through its talk shows and documentaries, especially after the failed coup attempt in Turkey. It did not disclose its main source of funding.

Governments across channels

Early in March 2016, ‘Libya News TV’ was launched, funded by the Libyan Radio and TV Corporation of the Information and Culture Commission, part of the interim government and the House of Representatives.

Recently, the Benghazi headquartered ‘Libya al-Hadath’ TV channel was added to the list of channels. It is closely affiliated to the armed forces, under the House of Representatives, and it is believed it is funded by a group of Libyan entrepreneurs.

On April 3, 2016, ‘ Libya Business’ channel was launched. Headquartered in Amman, Jordan, it is dedicated to Libya’s business sector.

‘Libya Alwatnya’ (former Al-Jamahiriya), ‘ Libya Panorama’ and ‘ Libya One’ are all stationed in Tripoli. They are affiliated to the National Unity government and related Presidential Council, all a consequence of the Moroccan Skhirat accord.

Other TV channels exist but their status is uncertain; some are still operating, others went off air. They have ambiguous finance sources, and include, for example, Libya Sport News, ( former Al-Munshaa), Libya 24, Libya TV, Libya February, Al-Qabael, Ouya, Ahfad Al-Mukhtar, Lebda FM, Libya Chat, Libya Air, Libio TV, LRT Libya, FM, Libya Tantakheb TV, and Crown.

Many channels, three agendas

The Libyan media landscape in general, and TV in particular, is in fact more complicated that it looks. The private channels do not disclose their funding sources. The public channels, on the other hand, are technically less professional and are susceptible to being exploited by different groups, given their sharp divisions. Ali Baba should not be optimistic and encouraged to open the forty channels cave. Most of today’s Libyan TV channels are aligned with one of three sides: the former regime, the so-called revolutionaries, or Operation Dignity.

The political agenda of the funding groups of these channels are already engaged in shaping public opinion by force, encouraged by advanced technologies and resilient political and misleading information methods. These channels, in the absence of well-defined frameworks and strict policies, will ultimately turn into tools of incitement, mobilization, and change, and in most cases, be used as mediums for provocation or a tool for fueling internal strife among Libyans.