Libya's Revolution TV

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The Qatar-based station that began in support of the Libyan uprising now faces, like the nation it covers, large and difficult questions about what comes after Qaddafi

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Mohamed Hawas left his job as an anchor for state-run TV in February, later joining the new Libya TV, which actively backed the popular uprising / Libya TV


DOHA, Qatar -- When I first visited the offices of the Libyan rebels' television channel, tucked into a corner of the old souk in Doha, Qatar, I expected a ramshackle operation run by a scrappy young crew with jerry-rigged equipment.

Instead, what I found was a small but state-of-the-art TV studio surrounded by a series of bustling offices, littered, like any good newsroom, with doodled-on rough drafts, rattling Blackberries, and cartons of leftover fries from Hardee's.

In the glassed-in main editing room, a woman in a black hijab and matching abaya scooted around in a rolling chair, monitoring a floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall panel of television screens, switches, dials, and knobs. Downstairs, in the one-room studio, someone shouted a countdown as music for the five o'clock news hour erupted into the black, sound-proof space. Cameras swooped from dollies and images of Libyan children, their faces painted the green and red of Libya's pre-Qaddafi flag, filled the screen behind the anchor's sparkling desk.

The scene at Libya TV -- efficient, professional, lively -- was just business as usual at Libya's first and only independent satellite channel, which launched last March as the revolution began to gain steam. The operation is funded and hosted by the government of Qatar - the tiny, energy rich state that has made itself an ally to the Libyan rebels -- and began in the Radio Free Europe model, broadcasting both tactical and humanitarian messages to aid the rebels on the ground in ousting Muammar Qaddafi.

Six weeks ago, the station's first mission was complete, at least in part: Qaddafi skipped town, Tripoli fell to rebel forces, and the entire 42-person staff of Libya TV -- a motley assembly of students, teenagers, former political prisoners, and ex-pat journalists, nearly all of whom are Libyan born -- were left first to celebrate, and then to ask, What next? How does a TV channel, founded for the purpose of helping to tear down a government, transition to the much more complicated, and decidedly less glamorous, task of helping to build a new one?

" We have to start from nothing, from zero, and build our country step by step"

Huda Elserari, the station's well-spoken general manager, sighed at the question. "First, the fighting is not over yet," she said. Indeed, a floor below where we were sitting, in the station's studio, the news vibrated with bloody images of fighting in Sirte and elsewhere. "We will continue doing what we are doing until the whole of Libya is free," she said.  

"Second, the revolution is not just about fighting a dictatorship. It's also about changing the culture and mentality of the people after 42 years under Qaddafi," she said. "This is our role also. We have to keep fighting, more and more and more, fighting that very old mentality, old lifestyle, and old work style to create a new Libya."

Senior Producer Mohammed Mseek said the channel is already beginning to transition into the "next phase," as he put it, featuring programming to educate the Libyan people about tolerance, unity, democracy, and diversity within Libyan culture -- topics that were taboo under Qaddafi. Most of Libya TV's viewers have never lived under any other ruler. His potent mix of authoritarianism, surveillance, and social intolerance have done a number on the Libyan state of mind, Mseek said. "Fighting the 'Qaddafi mentality' is our first goal," he said.

"After 42 years, most people don't know what they should do. They are asking, 'What is a ministry? What is the meaning of a free media?' We have to start from nothing, from zero, and build our country step by step," he said. "We're going to have to teach people about politics, health care, culture, and education to prepare them for how to act in a free government."

The channel recently launched an Amazigh language program, which, for the first time since Qaddafi took power in 1969, provides Libyan Berbers with a forum to speak, teach -- and broadcast -- in their native language. Amazigh-speaking Berbers, a minority across North Africa, are estimated at around 300,000 in Libya, about five percent of the population. The channel has also hosted a delegation of Libyan tribal leaders, members of the transitional council, and brought on youth activists as hosts who can, as Elserari said, "speak in the same style as the youths in Libya, so they understand each other and listen."

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Haley Sweetland Edwards is a journalist who covers Central Asia and the Middle East and currently lives in Tbilisi, Georgia. She recently lived in Yemen on a Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting grant.

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