Unfortunately, many of us who enjoy freedom of speech take it for granted. Citizens of Libya haven’t had that luxury for 42 years. Thus, when the rebels seized the city of Misurata, one of their first acts was to liberate the government-controlled Radio Misurata and re-christen it Radio Free Libya. A report on Balancing Act-Africa has the details.
Everything for the station changed at that moment. Virtually all of the nationalistic songs in the station’s music library had Gaddafi’s name in them. “We searched through dozens in order to play a tune that only mentions the land,” notes founder Ahmed Hadia.
The station was flooded with those wanting to be presenters. “They wanted to express how happy they were that the city had become free, and to convey how much they hate Gaddafi and the dictatorship,” explains Salim Betmal, a university lecturer turned DJ.
Programs strive to keep up morale. “The Protectors” focuses on and praises the work of volunteers around the city. Religious programs remind listeners of the need to be patient in order to reap the rewards to come.
The flagship program of Radio Free Libya is ‘Good Morning Libya’, which features news on the fighting, interviews with rebel council members, traditional Arabic songs, a summary of what the world press is saying about Libya and information on the availability of food,water and other essentials.
In addition to the local FM channel, Radio Free Libya has control of two medium wave signals, the high-powered site at El Biada on 675 Khz and a 1125 Khz channel. These signals are strong enough to cross the Mediterranean into southern Europe, and are being picked up by DXers as far away as Denmark.
These efforts have not gone unnoticed by those loyal to Gaddafi. Regime jets tried to bomb the station twice before the NATO no-fly zone was implemented. Loyalists tried to blow up the tower. The building has been shot up with machine gun fire and rocket propelled grenades. Snipers zeroed in on the main entrance, and station staff tunneled through walls for safer access. Rebels even sent a hit man to assassinate the staff.
Some of the presenters were scared off, but most of the station’s founders continued undeterred. “Who controls the media, controls the country,” explains Hadia. “If the radio waves had gone silent, it would give the impression that there was no control.”
Radio Free Libya continues to expand. Correspondents are covering the war from the front lines. Boots on the ground are the only way to ensure accurate reporting in the rumor-fueled environment. “Sometimes we choose uplifting news, but we’ll never tell a lie,” adds Betmal. “Either tell it straight, or just don’t tell it.”