Television is the cheapest, most accessible and consumed media in Libya. It is also the most frequently consumed, the Altai Consultancy survey of 2013 showed that 76 percent of Libyans use TV for their daily consumption of news, as almost every household owns a TV set and a satellite TV system. Libya received a lot of international media attention during the uprising in 2011, and satellite TV became the main source of reliable news for the population, since local media were controlled by the regime. But news consumption patterns have changed. As international media coverage of Libya dropped after 2011, Libyans started searching for alternatives to UAE-based and Saudi-owned Alarabyia and Qatari-owned Al Jazeera, which were each pushing one of the two clashing narratives in the struggle internal to the Arab nations, which sees the axis of Qatar versus Saudi Arabia and UAE. This contributed to the political strive at the time. Libya still suffers from the heat of that regional power struggle which comes in the form of a proxy war, with Qatar and Al Jazeera supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and revolutionaries especially from western parts of the country, while Saudi Arabia and UAE support the oppositions including liberal, Salafists and even tribes in eastern parts of the country.
With the increasing interest of the public in politics and state transition, the demand increased for more political analysis, therefore dozens of private and public satellite TV stations emerged. Yet very few were able to continue past the 2014 crisis, due to financial or security reasons as some were targeted in several ways, including having their offices stormed by armed groups.
Audiences have been shifting from one channel to another as political polarisation began to surface and a more aggressive tone became common after 2014, when the mandate of the first democratically elected parliament (the GNC) ended.
Currently there are dozens of Libyan channels, targeting the wide spectrum of viewers and ideologies. These channels usually offer a similar package of programmes comprised of social chat shows, political dialogues, cultural documentaries, religious shows and news bulletins. But the narrative varies significantly. State-run channels such as Al Wataniyah and Libya Al Rasmiyah (Libya Official) are less attractive as compared with 2012, when optimism was high and they were the most trusted and followed by the audiences who considered them their main official source of information. Yet the government ended up twisting facts and ignoring the main issues and this gave the private channels enough room to move in and become more popular. Due to the challenges of working amid deteriorating security, the public channels are now providing no fresh content and depend on the archived material from previous regime days. Also they are less active and turn a blind eye to all the important events, which leads to the audiences switching to other channels to stay informed. For example during the clashes in Tripoli in September 2018, when over 100 people died, the state run channels were airing documentaries on culture and historic events in Libya from their archive. They only aired press conferences held by the government or prepared press statements. Otherwise very little information was presented. These channels receive very little attention and they are only on air because the government is still paying for the salaries. This led the general public to seek other private channels, but it also caused further confusion, as each channel added its own spin on the news stories. This pattern is happening both in urban and rural areas, who on top receive very little to no news coverage a fact which sometimes is brought up by representatives of these smaller villages and towns. It is very hard to access any reliable information and have credible sources in times of tension in Libya as all sides use media as a tool to gain further leverage and rally public support.
Libya Al Ahrar (Libya For the Free) is a private channel that started broadcasting from Doha on 30 March, 2011 and recently relocated to Turkey, fuelling allegations that it is still funded by the Qatari government. Libya Al Ahrar was created by Mahmoud Shammam, the former Minister of Information, and was considered as one of the most influential television channels during the first two years of its creation. It broadcasted mainly news, debate and political programmes in Arabic, although one program and one news bulletin were provided in Amazigh language. When Mahmoud Shammam, who is viewed as a liberal, left the channel, many of the staff began to leave to other TV stations, as the channel’s editorial direction was perceived to be sympathetic to revolutionary/Islamist currents in the General National Congress (GNC). The channel began to focus its programming to oppose Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s “Dignity Operation", launched in 2015 to fight radical groups in the eastern city of Benghazi and ending in his victory and control over the whole eastern parts of the country. Due to the increasing popularity of the Marshal and the distrust in his opposition a large bulk of the audience began searching for an alternative which later seemed to be offered by a new channel taking in many of the Libya Al Ahrar staff who left in search of a more 'impartial' media platform: the Jordan-based Libya HD, which was considered the most professional media in the years after the civil war in 2014 as it offered much more impartial news and take on the issues. Libya HD is owned by Aref al-Nayed Libya's former ambassador to UAE.
Reports and surveys compiled by Altai Consultancy in 2013 indicate that men tend to prefer sports and political analysis shows, while women appear notably more interested in drama and soap operas, with a strong appetite for movies. Women are also more interested in religious shows than men, while more educated and younger Libyans express interest in international TV channels.
Among the main TV stations owned by the state is Al-Wataniya, which was established in 2012 by the new government and repossessed all of Gaddafi’s Al-Jamahiriya, as well as the media staff. It aired talk shows and news programmes and was very popular across the board as there were very few options in the first few years of its broadcasting, but it became less relevant and went back to using the same old content which was pre-recorded and archived. These were due to number of reason mainly the infighting and inner struggle between the different staff and management. Corruption was also a major reason for the current crisis in state institutions.
After an alliance of militias known as Libya Dawn launched an offensive in Tripoli in summer 2014 and later took control of the city, many offices belonging to private TV channels and other media outlets were targeted.
Al Aseemah (The Capital) was founded in 2011 and initially began to broadcast from Tunisia, before moving to Tripoli where its facilities were stormed by militias for their criticism of Islamist groups and militias. The channel owner Jomaa Al-Osta along with four of his staff were kidnapped by the armed group and they were told to leave the country or be killed. This was especially for their enmity with the Muslim Brotherhood and their criticism of the armed militias. This occurred several times in different parts of the country, as media figures were targeted, kidnapped and assassinated.
Recently, a new channel, 218 TV, has become highly popular and much followed on social media. It attracts well-educated urban youths and provides its audience with entertaining and professional content such as talk show Al Ashia (Tea-Time Show) where issues such as social media trends and anime, US box office movies and even K-pop music are discussed.
Libya Awalan is a Cairo-based channel which was founded in 2011 by the businessman Hassan Tatanaki, who is also known for his outspoken enmity of the Muslim Brotherhood. The channel was very popular among the liberal and non-conservative people who make up the bulk of the population. Especially after its Tripoli-based competition Al Dawalya and Alassema closed down after armed groups stormed their buildings and threaten their staff. Libya Awalan channel showed support to the Eastern government and to Marshal Haftar, but it closed in late 2015 for financial reasons as the channel itself reported. But there are other claims that the Egyptian authorities closed it down for lack of licenses.
A number of pro-Islamist and pro-revolutionary groups in Western parts of the country support Al-Nabaa TV which was established in 2013 and is allegedly owned by Abdul Hakim Belhaj, leader of the currently inactive Jihadist Libya Fighting Group. The channel is the most popular among the Muslim Brotherhood and their allies, who oppose Marshal Haftar. The channel facilities were also stormed a number of times by armed groups but Al-Nabaa still airs today.
Libya Al Hadath is a channel based in eastern Libya founded in 2016, during the Dignity Operation launched by Marshal Haftar in 2014. In a conversation with the author the Chairman of the channel claimed they are the most watched channel in the East and South of Libya, and that they have a large number of viewers in western parts of the country. But the channel is clearly favoured by an older audience, and it has less appeal to the younger audience. The channel shows clear bias towards Marshal Haftar as it glorifies its personality and achievements. Tribute songs are played most of the day along with politically focused talk shows that emphasise how the Marshal’s goal is to eliminate terrorists and how those who oppose him are terrorist sympathisers. But this is similar yet opposite to the tactics followed by the oppositions who brand the Marshal as a new dictator and an image of the former leader Gaddafi, and who call his military operation the Counter Revolution, as opposed to their 2011 February Revolution. These two views sum most of the conflict and the main axis of the current narrative on media.
Gaddafi loyalists and media personalities who fled the country after Tripoli fell to rebels in 2011 went to different countries, mainly Egypt. They launched a number of channels that are aimed at all of the Gaddafi loyalists and sympathisers inside and outside the country. These channels found wide acceptance as the country is plunged into chaos and violence, as they blame the majority of the Libyan population who for supporting the uprising in 2011, also fault those who sat on the fence, the narrative is that those who supported the uprising are traitors who supported the Western-planned and NATO-executed coup that eliminated their brother leader Gaddafi.