NATO said on today it had bombed three satellite dishes in Tripoli to stop “terror broadcasts” by Muammar Gaddafi, but Libyan state TV remained on air and condemned what it said was the targeting of journalists. NATO has been bombing Libyan targets since March, when it intervened under a UN mandate to protect civilians from Gaddafi’s forces as he fights an uprising against his 41-year rule.
In a video statement titled “NATO silences Gaddafi’s terror broadcasts”, NATO spokesman Colonel Roland Lavoie said NATO had disabled the ground-based satellites in a precision airstrike. Libyan state television continued to broadcast, however, and early today was showing a repeat of a political talk show from the previous evening.
The Libyan Broadcasting Corporation issued a statement saying three employees were killed and 15 wounded in the strike. “We are not a military target, we are not commanders in the army and we do not pose a threat to civilians,” said Khalid Bazelya, an LBC official, reading the statement to reporters. “We are performing our job as journalists representing what we wholeheartedly believe is the reality of NATO aggression and the violence in Libya,” he said. “The fact that we work for the Libyan government or represent anti-NATO, anti-armed gangs views does not make us a legitimate target for NATO rockets.”
Colonel Lavoie expressed scepticism about the casualty report. “At this stage we have no evidence whatsoever to suggest there is any foundation to these allegations,” he said, adding that the strikes had been carried out in the middle of the night to avoid casualties. He said the bombing of the satellite dishes was in line with NATO’s mission. “Our intervention was necessary as TV was being used as an integral component of the regime apparatus designed to systematically oppress and threaten civilians and to incite attacks against them,” the NATO spokesman said.
One analyst suggested a link between the bombing of Libyan TV equipment and the killing on Friday of rebel military chief Abdel Fattah Younes, apparently by his own side. “It’s absolutely plausible that what NATO is concerned about is the dissemination of propaganda exploiting Younes’s death, particularly now that there’s more information suggesting it was an Islamist-orientated group that committed the killing,” said Shashank Joshi, of London’s Royal United Services Institute.
“This chimes perfectly with claims made by the regime that al Qaeda is behind the rebellion and the TNC (rebel Transitional National Council) is a front for radical extremists. “It may also have something to do with efforts to shake the regime’s grip on Tripoli by cutting off information. And there could also be an element of desperation on the part of NATO - a sort of kitchen-sink approach to find new forms of leverage.”
Mr Joshi noted that NATO had bombed Serbian television during the Kosovo conflict in 1999. “So attacking television stations is something NATO has done in the past and it’s part of its repertoire of coercive tools.”
Libyan state television broadcasts endless footage of state rallies and tribal meetings in support of Gaddafi. Talk shows feature hosts and guests condemning NATO airstrikes and discussing hardships imposed on Libyans by the bombing campaign. It shows little information about the rebels, whom it calls armed gangs or agents of Islamist extremism.
Several explosions had rocked Tripoli late on Friday evening and state television said then that airstrikes had hit civilian targets, though this was impossible to verify. Colonel Lavoie said NATO had acted after careful planning to minimise the risk of casualties or long-term damage to television transmission capabilities, and was now in the process of assessing the effect of the strike. “Striking specifically these critical satellite dishes will reduce the regime’s ability to oppress civilians while at the same time preserving television broadcast infrastructure that will be needed after the conflict,” he said.
Andy Sennitt comments: Searching on Google news I’ve seen some shockingly inaccurate headlines to this story. For example, one headline read “NATO takes down three Libyan TV satellites.” This has been changed to “NATO takes down three Libyan TV satellite transmitters” which is also wrong. Another one reads “NATO bombs Libyan state TV transmitters,” which is even worse, as it makes no reference to satellite and contradicts the quote from Colonel Lavoie about “preserving television broadcast infrastructure that will be needed after the conflict.” Apparently good headline writers are in short supply these days.