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Radio in New Libya Speaks up

After more than four decades of totalitarian rule, the population is gradually coming to grips with the reality of a free Libya.

TRIPOLI, Libya As a new Libya is slowly — and painfully — emerging, the country’s airwaves also are changing.

But the headway has not come without struggle and determination. Radio (along with the UN-backed ammunition and support, and the insurgents) proved to be a vital element in the upheaval that triggered the end of the Gaddafi regime, in place since 1969.

One by one

The propaganda war that emerged during the revolution was an ongoing affair that at times proved tougher than the street fighting that ensued for seemingly endless months. With most stations belonging to the regime and the few private ones run by “regime-friendly” administrators, the insurgents had no alternative but to takeover one station after another.

For every battle and inch of territory the insurgents gained, it was necessary for the newly-seized neighboring radio stations to inform inhabitants of the status of the uprising.

Benghazi, Libya’s second largest city and the birthplace of the anti-Gaddafi revolution, offered the least radio resistence, with the vast majority of its citizens traditionally against the Gaddafi regime since its inception. Over the years, in fact, Benghazi frequently was the base of ruthless reprisals by the regime against those who tried to confront it.

Ironically, it was also in Benghazi that Libyan radio started to flourish, albeit cautiously, during the last years of the Gaddafi leadership. At the time, private broadcaster Libyana Hits FM (who can safely use its name today) said that it wanted to survive and to do so, it avoided news that would cause trouble with the authorities.

Libyana Hits FM later joined the newly captured stations of the national broadcasting corporation, and bravely formed a collective radio voice, helping to trigger the revolution along with the common people’s relentless fight for freedom.

More than a year after the uprising there are still pockets of strong resistance in various towns and villages with tribal attachments to the old regime. Yet Libyana Hits FM continues to forge forward, playing music and songs the Gaddafi regime once prohibited.

Time to be heard

The station said that it believes in the abundance of musical talent in Libya, that unfortunately it was oppressed for decades but that it is now “time to be heard.” Libyana Hits FM is today a station considered synonymous with the revolution and the emergence of the new Libya.

Not all Libyan broadcasters, however, have made such grand strides. Tribal prejudices and political stalemates in Tripoli and elsewhere still inhibit some stations from making personal declarations, though such stations as Tripoli FM and Al Madina are screaming loudly, through their content and editorial decisions, for change and a return to democratic values.

After more than four decades of totalitarian rule, the population is gradually coming to grips with the reality of a free Libya. Broadcasters and diplomats in particular have been struggling to reimmerse themselves into the new climate, not for any lack of conviction but more because of the air of suspicion that still haunts them in their field of work.

The social and political conditioning of radio in turbulent times, even when the gunfire has been muted, is reflected in small, distant places like Bani Walid where the new Tripoli administration’s authority has been challenged by local dignitaries with a penchant for the tribal system. This has resulted in certain stations whimsically changing allegiance according to the situation on the ground, as happened earlier in the revolution in bigger cities like Sirte and Misrata, where radio played a major role in the ever-changing fortunes of the people caught in the crossfire.

However, as the Libyana Hits FM slogan so swiftly says, “It is time to be heard.” This catchphrase — or, perhaps more appropriately, this state-of-mind —seems increasingly to reflect the reality in a new and free Libya that will, hopefully one day soon, have less hesitant broadcasters and a more welcoming radio landscape.