The journey to Misrata is like traveling in time back to the war era. It is littered with checkpoints, a dozen along a 30-kilometer stretch of highway from Tripoli. They are manned by heavily armed revolutionaries in camouflage.
Locals remain cynical about the NTC and the new political elite
The checkpoints are the first signal of the mistrust that dominates Libya's third largest city, which, for a long time, was the only western Libyan city controlled by revolutionaries. These days the mistrust continues, sharpened by the city's competition with Benghazi and Tripoli. Locals remain cynical about the NTC and the new political elite. The city's vibrant media scene, meanwhile, is a critical observer of Libyan politics.
Tobacts Television and Radio is proud of its independence. It had to change its name from Misrata TV, to avoid confusion with a station run by the NTC's Khalifa Al Zwawy.
Tobacts is a multimedia company and leader in the youth market. Mohamed Al Ghwil, a well-known local business man, funds the outlet but his journalists insist that he does not play a role in the design and creation of the programs.
"The revolution was supported by god"
The media firm is planning to start a religious TV station as well. They explain it will be liberal and "for everybody". Editor in chief Omar Abu Ghadada explains the motivation behind the new channel: "The revolution was supported by god", he smiles "The vast majority of Libyans are Muslims but during the Gaddafi era even religion was part of the propaganda system. Al Iman TV from Tripoli was the faith channel, but even the Imans were indoctrinated by the regime. During the revolution they spoke out against the people."
The Tobacts channel pledges to operate neutrally, without any political or governmental influence. "We represent the free media and want to confront the new leaders on corruption and mismanagement. The NTC-run Misrata TV can't do that – they are paid for by the government and they are a mouthpiece of the NTC."
The Tobacts project started on July 23, 2011 on the screen of Omar Abu Ghadada's laptop in a café in Tunisia. He and a friend had fled Misrata, which had
won the bloody siege but was only accessible by boat. "I knew freedom can only be obtained through freedom of speech," he says.
Among its successes, Tobacts TV creates animated short films about Libya's new political system. The two-minute-long spots explain the function of the interim government, the NTC and the voting process for the new constitution. More than ten graphic designers work on these unique films. "Libyans are not used to reading," says TV and radio journalist Ahmed Shlak, "but they like to watch."
"The future lies in changing our mentalities"
The Tobacts team aims to educate the viewers about their recently won rights. "Few Libyans know about the rights they achieved with the revolution. At the same time the old elite climbs within the new institutions, that's a shame. We try to show the voters that the future lies in changing our mentalities," says Shlak.
The name Tobacts refers to the old roman name of Misrata. "This ancient culture is part of us," says Ghadada, sitting in Tobacts' modern office. "Libya is a country with a broad variety of cultures and a long history. That's what we want to show with the Tobacts project. That is why we chose the old name. Tobacts TV is made in Libya, with our own hands."