The nightly call-in show on government radio here in Libya’s second-largest city was getting a string of calls about corrupt land deals and shortages at government ministries on Feb. 16, 2010. He steered the callers toward expounding on who was responsible.
The answers came thick and fast, all blaming the government. “Everything was criticism of Qaddafi’s ministers and how they’re stealing the people’s money,” recalls Ali.
A more ominous call soon followed. An engineer at Benghazi Radio’s transmitter station got a phone call from Tripoli demanding the signal be shut down immediately. The engineer refused, saying he’d need the order in writing.
The next day, Ali and nine of his colleagues were in government detention, threatened with the death penalty for treason. They were soon released, badly shaken. Ali was fired from his job, largely because of “Good night Benghazi’s” penchant for pushing the envelope of what was acceptable in the completely controlled domestic media.
Benghazi Radio – on which a young Army officer named Muammar al-Qaddafi announced the Sept. 1, 1969, bloodless coup that ushered him into power – was burned during last week’s uprising. The station lost its equipment at the government radio and TV building downtown. But employees have set up a studio at the transmitter station and have been up and running since Feb. 19.
As he announced his coup in 1969, Qaddafi said that he was overthrowing a corrupt monarchy in the name of freedom. Now the Voice of Free Libya is trying to make that word mean something.
“What we did most of the time was 100 percent propaganda,” says broadcaster Ahmed Omar el-Naili, who recalls a call a few years ago from Tripoli in the middle of a broadcast on the weakness of government, ordering him to “stop now.”