Money, power and politics surround the dispute over the future of the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation, and any resolution to the fight for ownership of the most popular local television station will impact media markets in Lebanon and abroad.
In a lawsuit, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea is trying to wrest control of the LBC Group from General Manager Pierre Daher.
The LF founded LBC as a mouthpiece in 1985. Pierre Daher, whose father was an important member of the Kataeb party in North Lebanon, was brought on board at LBC’s inception, shortly after he finished studying Industrial Engineering in California. The station was popular, and despite war damage survived Lebanon’s long conflict.
When Samir Geagea was jailed and the LF banned from functioning in 1994, the LF’s assets were distributed, with Daher getting LBC. The LBC Group now operates a local Lebanese station LBCI and several satellite channels including LBC SAT – a prominent free-to-air channel in the Gulf market.
At the heart of the current legal dispute are the exact terms – and documents – involved in the LF’s divestiture as well as questions on how Daher financed LBC’s rapid and very successful expansion.
In the suit Geagea is claiming LBC should have been returned to the party once he was freed from prison in 2005 and that Daher used LF-supplied funds to build the brand. Daher disagrees with the return policy, and says he grew LBC with capital from private investors.
Daher started launching LBC satellite channels in 1996 and established the Production and Acquisition Company (PAC). PAC built new studios, purchased equipment, hired employees and began producing some content for foreign markets and almost all content for LBCI – making it today little more than a brand name and outdated equipment.
Geagea is asking for control of PAC as well as the satellite channels, both now actually in the hands of Saudi Prince Walid bin Talal– who owns the Rotana group of free-to-air satellite channels. In 2008, bin Talal bought at least 85 percent of both PAC and LBC SAT (the exact size of the stake was not disclosed). The deal did not include LBCI – the local channel in Lebanon.
Should Geagea succeed in getting the entire group, it would certainly raise the ire of bin Talal. The Saudi billionaire in 2007 named Daher president of broadcasting for the Rotana group of free-to-air satellite channels, an operation he is trying to grow and diversify.
Bin Talal appears to be positioning Rotana to rival MBC – which dominates the Gulf’s free-to-air market – said Jihad Bitar, general manager of the media analysis company Comtrax Solutions. The prince has incorporated LBC SAT into the Rotana family with crossover advertising and made a number of agreements in recent years to diversify the content Rotana channels offer, Bitar told NOW.
(On Tuesday Rotana announced it sold 9 percent of its shares for $70 million to Rupurt Murdoch’s media conglomerate NewsCorp, which bin Talal took a stake of almost 13 years ago.)
Rotana losing LBC SAT could start a new set of court battles.
A loss for Geagea could push him to launch his own local channel. The LBC brand name, however, is strong, and the local market is crowded with stations controlled by Lebanon’s political bosses.
If a judge decides PAC and the satellite channels should stay with Rotana but award LBCI to the LF, Rotana may still fight for use of the LBC name. In the Gulf market the brand is well-known and has a certain cache, Bitar said.
A source close to the LF, speaking anonymously as it is an ongoing legal matter, told NOW that an initial court decision is expected in June with the case, initially filed in 2007, fully concluding shortly thereafter.