Libyan rebel TV fights its war from Qatar

'To inform the Libyan audience'

Away from Benghazi, the stronghold of Libya's rebellion, dozens of Libyan journalists back the insurgency from the newly founded "Libya for the Free" satellite television in Qatar.
The host country, home also to Al-Jazeera television and an active partner in the NATO-led campaign enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya, is the main financier of the rebel television.
"The aim of our channel is to inform the Libyan audience, which has been deprived for decades of proper information and subjected to propaganda" by Gathafi's regime, said Mahmud Shammam, one of the channel's founders.
He said the television -- which was set up in March by Libyan opposition members and journalists -- will be based in Qatar "until the liberation of Tripoli."
Shammam holds the information portfolio in the rebels' National Transitional Council, which won control of eastern Libya in a bloody uprising that broke out in mid-February against Moamer Gathafi's regime.
Around 100 journalists and technicians work at the Libya for the Free television which broadcasts only 12 hours a day, its director general, Mohammed al-Aakari, said.
"We have teams on the ground in Libya, mainly in Benghazi, and correspondents in liberated zones," he added, referring to territories seized by the insurgents fighting troops loyal to Gathafi.
The channel airs news bulletins detailing the rebels' progress and messages from fighters in areas besieged by Gathafi forces, as well as political debates and patriotic songs.
It also broadcasts a satirical programme based on excerpts from speeches by the country's eccentric leader, who has ruled the country since 1969.
Journalists are keen to relocate to Libya as soon as it becomes possible.
"The noose is tightening around the regime. After the liberation of Tripoli, we will immediately move there," said one of them, refusing to disclose his name, fearing for the safety of his family who are in Tripoli.
Shammam said that the television aims to challenge the propaganda dished out by the authoritarian Libyan regime.
"For decades, the Libyans have been subjected to the government's Goebbels-like propaganda," he said in reference to the minister of propaganda in Nazi Germany.
"We wanted to break the monopoly and give our people a channel that is open for debates and critical speech," said Shammam, who was the editor-in-chief of the Arabic edition of Newsweek magazine.
He insisted, however, that the television is not a mouthpiece of the NTC, despite being himself a spokesman of the council.
"It does not receive instructions, and journalists decide the editorial line," he said, adding that the channel's management has contracted experts from the BBC to train the journalists.
As for finance, the wealthy state of Qatar leads the channel's list of funders, its chief, Aakari, said.
"There are several businessmen and donors who support the channel, but the greatest support surely comes from the state of Qatar, which we will never be able to thank enough," he said.