Analysis by Steve Metcalf of BBC Monitoring on 25 July
Another channel has entered Lebanon's competitive and politicized television market, two months ahead of presidential elections. OTV, the channel of Christian opposition leader Michel Awn, finally launched limited transmissions on 20 July.
Starting with broadcasts for several hours each evening, the channel hopes to expand to full programming by September. Plans for the channel were first announced last year, but it was delayed by the Israel-Hezbollah conflict and its aftermath.
Awn is the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), the largest Christian bloc in parliament. According to Associated Press, he is so far the only declared presidential candidate for the election that is scheduled to take place in September.
Awn is a former army commander and was interim prime minister in 1988-89, before being forced into exile in France over his opposition to the Syrian presence in Lebanon. His FPM is now part of a parliamentary bloc opposed to the anti-Syrian government.
OTV staff emphasized that they aimed to provide objective reporting of Lebanese politics. Presenter Dima Sadiq told the Associated Press: "We will strive to set new standards of objectivity. We will not be the voice for any particular political faction."
Jean Aziz, news and political programming director, said that the channel aimed to be "objective and meticulous with all our information". In remarks reported by The Daily Star on 21 July, Aziz said: "We have only one competitor, and that is the truth."
Aziz, who also writes for the pro-Syrian daily Al-Akhbar, admitted that the channel had received criticism for being an organization affiliated with the FPM. "But this, I feel, will pass," he said.
OTV's association with the FPM is immediately obvious to Lebanese viewers from its orange logo, the colour adopted by the movement.
Immediately after its opening news bulletin on 20 July OTV broadcast a 90-minute interview with Awn. He said that while the idea for the channel had been his, the station was "for the people and not for any political group".
The delay in the launch had been due to unfavourable economic conditions, he said. There had been pressure from certain quarters on potential shareholders.
OTV has made great play of the fact that it is not owned by a single person but has raised money by selling shares to over 7,000 individuals and companies.
Awn said there would be no interference in news or political programming. He hoped OTV would become financially independent by presenting good programmes that attracted advertisers and sponsors. "We will not beg from any country and so be influenced by its policies," he said.
How far OTV can fulfil its pledge of objectivity remains to be seen. All Lebanon's major broadcasters are associated with one or other of the country's political or religious groups.
On the government side there is LBC, associated with the Christian Maronite community, and Future TV, established by assassinated Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. His son, Sa'd Hariri, is leader of the largely Sunni Future Movement, the largest parliamentary group.
Opposed to the government is Hezbollah's Al-Manar, NBN of pro-Syrian Parliament Speaker Nabih Birri and New TV, which takes an anti-Hariri line.
Even the main pan-Arab channels are seen by many as far from impartial. Media analysts say that Al-Jazeera tends to take a pro-Hezbollah and Syria view of events, while Al-Arabiya leans more to the government side.
The polarization in both Lebanon and its media was evidenced in an incident on 13 June, on the day pro-government MP Walid Eido (or Idu) was killed in a car bomb attack. During its coverage of the event, NBN left a studio presenter's microphone live while she was not on screen.
The presenter, Sawsan Darwish, was heard to say to a colleague: "What took them so long?" The two then speculated which politician might be next and how many more were needed to erode the government's majority.
NBN later apologized for the "unintentional mistake" and said that the presenter and a sound technician had been fired. But just over a month later, on 17 July, Al-Mustaqbal (The Future) newspaper reported that Darwish was back on NBN as a news anchor again.
Source: BBC Monitoring research 25 Jul 07