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The Changing Scene of Lebanese Television

This article was first published in the book "The Mission: Journalism, Ethics, and the World," ed. Joe Atkins, published by the Iowa State University Press, and appears here by kind permission of the publishers.

The past decade has witnessed radical changes in the structure and role of television in Lebanon. With the advent of satellite broadcasting, Lebanese television has become one of the power forces in the Arab world. It is watched with varying reactions around the region. However, little has been written on the subject. Consequently most of the available literature on the topic is either outdated (1), too general (2) or lacks precision. This paper attempts to fill this gap by providing a chronological account of this medium's development. It will provide first-hand information based on the author's experience for over forty years as a media practitioner, researcher of the role of the media in the Lebanese society, as well as a friend and advisor to various media practitioners and officials. The material in this paper, therefore, is based on the analysis of the available written material in both Arabic and English as well as on information collected through personal contacts with media and government sources.

Lebanese Media as a Product of its Society 
Media scholars often address the relationship between government and television in the context of either a western societal structure where this medium usually operates within the private sector, or a third world structure where the medium customarily operates within the public sector, typically as a government arm. Lebanese media institutions, however, do not fit either the third world model nor the western model of media operation for the existing societal forces in every state determine the structure, content and operation of media institutions. The mass media, therefore, are unique to their society. They cannot have identity or effects outside the concrete instances within which the different forces operate.

Lebanon is a curious country with many contradictions, a country of extreme pluralism and of deep divisions. It is a society fragmented along sectarian lines, which is going through a controversial identity: its institutions are torn between a state of transformation, which is exhibited in its relatively modern laws and perspective, and that of persistence, which is demonstrated by the performance of its political and religious bosses who put obstacles in the introduction of change or application of laws that may lessen the sectarian nature of the system of government.

While newspaper readership is not widely spread in Lebanon and the Arab world in general, radio and television are available in almost every household in Beirut. Television reception is not only of the Lebanese local channels but the cable connection is widely spread in Beirut and the major Lebanese cities. This spread is enhanced by the inexpensive cost of cable subscription in Lebanon. For little over twelve US dollars a month a Lebanese household can receive some seventy channels including most of the Arab satellite stations, CNN, the BBC, Al-Jazeera and numerous movie and other specialized channels. In some heavily populated areas this subscription could be as little as five US dollars a month. Unlicensed satellite television distribution companies have mushroomed in the past few years and have penetrated almost two-thirds of Lebanon's households (3).

The Lebanese media situation is an example of the contradictory state of transformation and persistence that Lebanon is going through. The existing media laws specify that television institutions be not directly managed or run by the government or private individuals or politicians. The practice, however, is different but is congruent with the special socio-political structure of the Lebanese society (4).

An examination of the development of television in Lebanon suggests that the measures taken by government to regulate television broadcasting since its inception in Lebanon were not intended to encourage television officials to deal with themes of significant concern to the average individual, mainly those emerging from the civil war. Themes that deal with the need for the cooperation of the different sectarian groups in the reconstruction of the country and in bringing about the unity of its people are almost absent in Lebanese television. The examination proposes that the different government legislations were introduced aimed not at promoting original productions, nor at providing more opportunity for local talent and developing responsible and professional organizational structures. Rather, it points out that state legislation in the area of television broadcasting were aimed at allowing government officials and the ruling political bosses to exploit this medium for their own political goals (5).

The assessment of the growth of television in Lebanon will show that government officials and political bosses endeavored to legalize their monopoly over television news and to control programs that might threaten their political ambitions or the status quo. Additionally, it will show that the friction between television authorities with the government during the past four decades was due to the interest of the television officials in financial gain more than their interest in securing increased freedom to produce programs that address themes relevant to the social and economic problems that are confronting the country. No serious investigation has been carried out by the media about claims of corruption in the government, which was often voiced by senior government officials (6). Additionally, no serious program, to date, has been produced to deal with the sectarian conflict that plagues the country.

Early Stages of Television in Lebanon 
Unlike most of the developing countries the initiative to establish television in Lebanon belongs not to the government but to businessmen who had little experience in the necessities of television broadcasting. They conceived of their project in essentially business terms, giving little or no attention to its social implications and responsibilities (7). In this lies Lebanese television's main weakness, for the logic of a commercial enterprise in the developing countries often runs counter to that of public service and societal well being.

The first attempt to start television broadcasting in Lebanon goes back to October 1954 when two Lebanese businessmen, Wissam Izzedine and Alex Arida, submitted an application to form a television broadcasting company. After two years of negotiations an agreement was signed, on August 1956, granting a license to La Compagnie Libanaise de Television, SAL (CLT). The license was not a monopoly as the applicants had requested. It was simply a license to broadcast television signals on two VHF channels, one devoted to programs in Arabic or with Arabic subtitles, and the other for foreign, mainly French, programs. CLT thus was the first commercial television station in the Arab world (8). The station inaugurated its service on May 28, 1959. It began transmission with a power of half a kilowatt.

The agreement between CLT and the Lebanese government left the door open for other companies to apply for television broadcasting licenses. The most important terms of the 21-article agreement were that Lebanon would not give the company monopoly rights and that television was under official government scrutiny. The agreement further stipulated that the company was not permitted to broadcast programs that would threaten public security, morals, religious groups, or enhance the image of any political personality or party.

Under the terms of this agreement television programs were to be restricted to education and entertainment. While the agreement allowed the company a restricted and inadequate freedom of political expression, it was quite generous in giving it all the time it needed for advertising. Advertising messages could cover up to 25 per cent of the total broadcast time. The agreement also required that the company should undertake to broadcast, free of charge, news programs and official bulletins submitted by the Ministry of Information (9).

In addition, television was to be subject to all laws and regulations pertinent to the rights of the press and of authors, as well as all national and international laws and regulations dealing with wireless communication and with broadcasting. Television was also required to exchange sound programs with the official Lebanese radio station. The agreement was for 15 years at the end of which the government had the right to buy the television installations.

In April 1959, another group of Lebanese businessmen, backed by an American corporation, ABC, approached the government with a request to set up a second television station, Compagnie de Television du Liban et du Proch-Orient (Tele Orient). An agreement identical to the one granted to CLT was concluded in July 1959. Transmission of one program began on May 6, 1962.

After a number of unprofitable years that witnessed tough competition and lack of adequate organization, especially in selling advertising time, the two companies agreed to coordinate and develop their advertising sales methods and to coordinate the scheduling and marketing of their programs. Before the beginning of the civil war in 1975 the two companies were making large profits. Revenue from television advertising was increasing. Total television income from advertising showed 19.5 per cent increase over 1973 and constituted 35.3 per cent of total 1974 advertising expenditure in Lebanon. Additionally, both companies sold locally produced programs to television institutions in the Arab countries (10).

In December 1974 the Lebanese Council of Ministers renewed the license of CLT. The renewal was for a period of nine years only. The new agreement sought to institutionalize and formulize the political control of broadcasting by the government. Under the terms of the new agreement the Lebanese government would buy the transmission installations and lease them to CLT. It decreed that two government censors be present at the station and requested CLT to broadcast a daily one-hour early evening program prepared by the government. The agreement also required that CLT pay 6.5% of its net advertising revenue to the government. It authorized a maximum of nine minutes of advertising per hour, with a maximum of three minutes during the news programs.

The 1974 agreement made vague requests that TV programs should be "of the highest possible standards" and that CLT should "train its staff in the artistic and technical fields." It required CLT to provide national television coverage. The government, however, was not in a position to implement these provisions because many of these requirements were left vague and because of the outbreak of the civil war, which diminished the ability of the government to execute such an agreement. Thus between December 1974 and December 1977 there were to be two sets of regulations for television broadcasting, one applying to Tele Orient under the provisions of its 1962 license, and the other applying to CLT under its 1974 agreement. 

Television during the civil war 
During the first two years of the civil war (1975-76), the two companies faced their most difficult challenges. The war seriously reduced advertising, and both companies incurred heavy losses. While both stations managed to maintain their technical equipment and keep their transmitters operational, they could not keep their production studios functioning. New programs could not be produced and television officials were eagerly seeking programs to fill their airtime.

This situation continued until March 1976 when an unsuccessful coup d'etat resulted in the occupation of both stations by militias representing the two warring factions. Consequently, the news program in the west Beirut station was run by the "nationalist forces" (mainly Moslem) and that in the east Beirut station by the "Lebanese forces" (mainly Christian). Coordination between the two stations in presenting a common news program was severed but they maintained the coordination of scheduling their entertainment programs. The split of the broadcast media also marked a serious escalation in the war. Broadcasting installations became targets for the warring groups. Television installations were badly damaged as each station had installations in the areas occupied by opposing factions. Transmission was also badly affected by power failures, which now became acute. Power supply became irregular and rationed.

The heavy losses incurred by both companies as a result of the war moved them close to bankruptcy. The only prospect for them to continue in operation was to secure financial assistance from the government. They officially requested the interference of the government at the end of 1976. At that time a new president, Elias Sarkis, was elected and the pace of hostilities diminished. People were hopeful that the new regime would bring an end to the civil war.

The first government of the new regime was faced with a dilemma. If it refused to aid both companies, Lebanon would be without television. This would add a further blow to the already battered image of the country and would be a bad beginning for the Sarkis presidency. If it agreed to extend aid, the new regime would have to aid other institutions affected by the war. To add to the urgency for action, the license of Tele Orient was due for renewal.

To meet these developments the Council of Ministers appointed a special committee to examine the state of affairs of television in Lebanon. The committee was charged with the task of suggesting the role television should play in what was believed to be the post-war period and making recommendations to maintain the operation of this medium.

The committee's report urged the Lebanese government to take a more active role in the development of television. It recommended replacing CLT and Tele Orient with a new company, of which the government would control fifty per cent and the private sector would control the remaining half. It further recommended that the two existing companies be given the option to purchase the shares of the public sector. The Council of Ministers, which had then been given temporary legislative powers by the parliament, approved the report.

A legislative decree (11) was issued on December 30, 1977 legalizing the birth of a new television company, the Lebanese Television Company (Tele Liban). The company was formed "to manage, organize and utilize the various television transmitting installations, and to undertake all commercial and television production tasks." The new company was given monopoly over television broadcasting in Lebanon until the year 2012. Its capital was distributed equally between the government and the two then existing companies. Tele Liban was to be managed by a board of directors of twelve members: six representing the Lebanese government and the remaining six representing the two companies. The chairman of the board was to be appointed by the Lebanese Council of Ministers.

The formation of Tele Liban was, therefore, not a result of a new policy by the Sarkis regime aimed at defining the role of television in Lebanese society but simply a result of "force majeur". It was the only possible move that the government could take at the time in order to support television and maintain its service. The main contribution of the Sarkis regime to the television medium was to provide it with financial liquidity. This financial support made it possible to rebuild and improve the existing transmitters so as to cover all the Lebanese areas as well as increase the hours of transmission.

An examination of the terms of the early agreements granting television licenses, as well as the directives by the different Lebanese governments concerning the operation of this medium in Lebanon, suggests that the official Lebanese policy was mainly seeking to legalize censorship of television programs in order to keep this medium under control by limiting its political influence. Government agreements with the early television stations did nor require improvement of standards or widening the appeal of the programs (12). Similarly, the clamor made by a number of television officials seeking public support (13) to help "provide more freedom for television" was prompted more by financial interest than by public service. They did not offer a plan that would provide better alternatives.

The merger of CLT and Tele Orient could have played a more positive role in improving the conditions of broadcasting in Lebanon. The function of Tele Liban, according to an official at the Ministry of Information, was "to bring together the best of what the public sector has to offer-its primary concern for the needs of the country-and the strength of the private sector in dynamic management and profit making." However, both government and the private sector, which jointly managed television under the Tele Liban plan, continued to provide programs that were determined by their private political or economic interests more than by the public interest. Hardly was there a time when the handling of television by either the government or the private sector paid serious attention to the production of local programs, or to the selection of foreign imported programs, that were relevant to the needs of society.

Thus, one observed on Lebanese television, for example, an imported program like "Eight is Enough", which in one of its episodes showed a U.S. teen-ager approaching her father for approval to "get on the pill", which contrasted oddly with the values of a country where "honor crimes" are condoned by law (14). In the same week, on another popular local program, "Abu Milhim", the Lebanese viewer heard the program's hero telling a young girl who lost her virginity in a bicycle accident: "I wish you had lost your eye and not your virginity." Not a single local television program was produced to address the serious sectarian problem that plagues the Lebanese society was one of the main causes of the civil war. And while television, and the print media in general, give their audiences an "over-dose" of political discussions we find an almost total absence of public affairs programming and lack of investigative reporting about issues that affect the livelihood of the average Lebanese such as the shortage of water and electricity supplies (15).

The creation of Tele Liban did not improve public service. The private sector involved in television felt secure and free of the fear of losing its license since the government was now its partner. Lebanese officials were content with their control of the overall management of this medium. Their attention was focused on improving the physical aspect of broadcasting that was ruined by the war. No efforts or plans were made to tie the programs of Tele Liban to social policies and plans. Thus instead of both groups joining efforts to improve public service, they adopted a policy of "let the public be damned." 

De facto stations are introduced 
The deterioration of the state of affairs in Lebanon and the further weakening of the central government during the Amin Jemayel presidency, in the mid 1980s, encouraged some of the warring factions to establish their own pirate television stations. Most important among these were the Lebanese Broadcasting Company (LBC), which was the official organ of one of the warring militias, and Al-Mashrek Television, which was established by politicians opposed to the patrons of LBC. Among the important pirate stations at the time was the New Television (NTV), which was established by the Lebanese communist party and later was bought by independent businessmen.

LBC went on the air in August 1985 and in a short period captured a wide Lebanese audience and became the leading TV station in Lebanon in terms of the variety of its programs and the size of its audience. Al-Mashrek (the Orient) Television began its experimental broadcasting in 1989 and started airing regular programs in April 1990. By the beginning of 1991 it became a serious competitor for both LBC and Tele Liban. Its heavy use of Arabic programs and films attracted large audiences. New Television began its transmission in April 1991. It was mainly commercial and aired programs that had no relationship to the ideology of the communist party.

As was the case with Tele Liban, LBC became subject of a struggle not only of the warring groups but also between the US and French interests who sought to dominate its programs. The early US influence on LBC did not please the French who consequently were able, early in 1988, to prevail on LBC to devote a special channel for strictly French programs. This channel (C33), however, was on the UHF band that was not widely used in Lebanon at the time.

The creation of de facto television stations faced both the Lebanese government and the private sector involved with Tele Liban with a new challenge. The deterioration of the quality of the human element and technical skills at Tele Liban allowed the de facto stations to easily attract Lebanese viewers to their programs and consequently drew advertisers to them. They were also able to attract viewers from different factions to their foreign programs that were of a better quality and more up to date than those of Tele Liban. Additionally, they paid more attention to addressing the daily concerns of the average citizen and attracted audiences to several of their local programs, which were relatively better than those of Tele Liban. However, all television stations were generally indifferent to the public needs for the coverage of subjects that relate to their livelihood (such as the problems of the shortage of electricity and water, pollution, and the high cost of living).

The success of the de facto stations led to heavy losses by Tele Liban. Faced with such competition its officials had to improve their programs. They imported up-to-date foreign serials and arranged for the direct relay of many special world events. They also attempted to introduce administrative reforms within its structure. Additionally Tele Liban officials filed a lawsuit requesting large financial compensation from the three leading de facto stations at the time: LBC, al-Machrek, and NTV.

During a 1989 retreat in the Saudi town of Taif, Lebanese members of the parliament were able to arrive at a regionally and internationally supported agreement that marked the end of the Lebanese civil war. Among other things the Taif Agreement, which was later incorporated in the Lebanese constitution, called for the reorganization of the media in Lebanon. The deliberations of members of the parliament clearly called for legalizing the existing de facto radio and television stations. Consequently, upon the signing of this agreement many politicians and businessmen hurried to set up television stations so as to establish their "right" for a television license. According to an ITU expert forty six television stations were set up in a matter of few months and some ten of the new stations were on the air by the end of 1991, transmitting on UHF channels as all the VHF channels were already in use (16).

Television legislation becomes an urgent need 
The increasing number of television stations resulted in confusion and chaos in the broadcasting medium. This happened at the beginning of the Elias Hrawi presidency, which had the enormous job of re-establishing government authority after the civil war. The first Hrawi government felt the urgency for introducing new legislation that puts order into the broadcasting field. Thus in 1991 the Minister of Information recommended the reorganization of television broadcasting in Lebanon. The proposed reorganization would grant licenses to stations whose total assets are Lebanese and require new stations to broadcast exclusively on UHF channels. To oversee broadcasting the Minister recommended setting up an Independent National Communication Agency that would grant broadcasting licenses and insure that the different broadcasting media operate within the technical and professional regulations set by it (17).

In order not to upset the delicate status quo, the Minister recommended that, exceptionally Tele Liban be requested to lease some of its channels to the de facto stations in return for a fee. This would insure the rights of Tele Liban and would provide it with funds to improve its facilities and services. At the same time, this arrangement would allow the de facto stations to continue their operation (18).

The recommendations of the Minister were referred to a special ministerial committee. The committee's deliberations were the basis of a January 1992 Council of Ministers decision which stated that "all television institutions which are presently operating de facto and in contradiction to the existing laws as well as anybody who wishes to invest in television must submit, within a period of one month, an application for commercial television broadcasting." The Council of Ministers also requested the ministerial committee to "draw out, for the consideration and approval of the Council of Ministers, the conditions for rental of, and investing in, television channels" (19).

The decision by the Council of Ministers raised a public uproar not because of what it stated but because of what was reportedly said in the deliberations of the ministers. According to press reports the deliberations dealt with the possibility of restricting television news to Tele Liban (20). Press reports suggested that both the President and the Prime Minister called for an end to the chaos and lack of restraint in the operation of media institutions.

Several members of the Council of Ministers and numerous politicians issued statements criticizing the deliberations. The ambassadors of England, France, the United States and the Vatican also made statements supporting freedom of the press (21). One paper reported that an ambassador of a prominent country declared that suppressing news on television was a demand "forced on the government" from outside but that "freedom in Lebanon is a red line which may not be crossed without negatively affecting the country." (22)

A spokesman for the Prime Minister promptly denied that a decision was taken to restrict television news to Tele Liban (23). The ministerial committee quickly addressed itself to the task of drafting proposals for legalizing the de facto stations. It recommended that, until a new law governing broadcasting in Lebanon is issued, the de facto stations be given annual leases, not licenses, on the available UHF channels.

Two years of indecision and delays lapsed before the Council of Ministers finally approved a draft law regulating the chaotic use of the broadcasting channels in Lebanon. The new law was adopted with minor modifications by the Lebanese parliament in November 1994 (24). The influence of the very active audio-visual lobby was clear in the amendments adopted by the parliament; notably abolishing the item limiting the time devoted to advertising. No time limit for airing advertisements exists under this law. Under the terms of this law also Tele Liban was to be fully owned by the government and its exclusive television broadcasting right was to be revoked in return for granting it the right to broadcast on all the VHF channels and one UHF channel. No compensation by the de facto stations was granted to Tele Liban.

The law requires that establishing TV stations inside Lebanese territories or its national waters be subject to prior licensing (chapter 2, article five). The duration of the license is sixteen years, renewable (chapter 5, article twenty-six). Licenses are granted by a government decree after consulting a new council established by this law, "the National Council of Audio Visual Media" (National Council). This council has the power to recommend the suspension or closure of stations. It is formed of ten members appointed jointly by the government and parliament (chapter five, article seventeen).

The law classifies television stations according to the following:

"First Category: TV stations that transmit visual programs, including news and political programs, covering all the Lebanese territory.
"Second Category: TV stations that transmit visual programs, except news and political programs, covering all the Lebanese territory. 
"Third Category: TV stations that transmit coded signals that can only be received by subscribers who possess the necessary technical equipment. 
"Fourth Category: International TV stations that transmit via satellite and whose coverage goes beyond the Lebanese territory." (Chapter three, article ten).

According to the new law granting a broadcasting license requires, among other things, obtaining approved technical transmission standards; meeting the necessary operational standards in terms of its human and physical resources, and presenting evidence of its ability to sustain expenses for at least its first year of licensing. The law, furthermore, compels the station to broadcast a volume of local production that is fixed by the "terms of conditions" of broadcasting in Lebanon (chapter two, article seven).

The law provides for a technical committee, "The TV and Radio Transmission Organization Committee," to draw the "terms of conditions" for broadcasting and to study all the technical broadcasting aspects and submit recommendations to the Minister of Information (chapter two, article eight).

Furthermore, the law limits granting radio and television licenses to Lebanese citizens or companies. The number of licenses is also limited to one for individual companies or persons. It does not allow "for a person or entity to own directly or indirectly more than ten percent of the total company shares. The husband or wife and all direct relatives are considered to be one person or entity." (Chapter four, article thirteen).

Under the terms of the audio-visual law broadcasting stations are not allowed to operate at a financial deficit for a prolonged period. The licensed station has to submit to the Ministry of Information a statement of its accounts. The technical committee entrusted to draw the "terms of conditions" for the operation of TV stations proposed a number of meaningful technical and environmental requirements but failed to require the quality and quantity of local programs essential for a country that is flooded with canned programs. The "terms of conditions" sets the required local programs to 16.6 % of the total aired programs. It requires only half an hour of weekly transmission of local educational programs and another weekly half an hour for rural and agricultural programs. (25)

The new law was faced with immense public debate. Again the influence of the very active audio-visual lobby was clear in the press campaigns and statements by politicians warning against "the dangers to freedom in Lebanon." Clearly owners of the de facto stations and the political opposition were afraid of the way licenses will be granted. They were correct in their fear. In September 1996 the government granted licenses to four television stations, other than Tele Liban. The four belonged to members of the government or their relatives, maintaining the sensitive religious sectarian balance, which is of paramount importance in Lebanese politics.

The stations that received licenses were 1. The Lebanese Broadcasting Company International (LBCI, formerly LBC), which represents the Maronite Christians and whose shareholders included prominent members of the government; 2. Future Television, representing the Sunni Moslems and owned by the then Prime Minister; 3. Murr Television (MTV), representing the Greek Orthodox Christians and owned by the family of the then Minister of Interior, and 4. The National Broadcasting Network (NBN), representing the Shiite Moslems and owned by the family and supporters of the Speaker of the House of Parliament. (26)

The government decision was faced with a public uproar because it was based more on political and sectarian than on professional grounds (27). Stations that were not licensed refused to stop broadcasting. The government used both threats and promises to implement its decision. In some instances it used force to close some stations but in others it allowed some to appeal the decision. Only one additional television station, al-Manar, the organ of the Islamic Hizbollah Party, which started broadcasting in June 1991 and spoke for the resistance against the occupation of South Lebanon, received a license, in July 1996 (28). However, a Christian religious station Tele Lumiere continues to broadcast without a license but with tacit government approval.

This encouraged the Moslem religious authorities to begin experimental broadcasts for the Holy Koran TV and a number of other religious stations asked for similar treatment but no official action was taken. As religious authorities are very powerful in Lebanon the Council of Ministers took a decision to provide the opportunity for the different religious communities to air their religious programs through a special channel to be made available to them by the government owned Tele Liban. Until this channel is made available the authorities keep silent about the de facto (illegal) operation of these stations. In a newspaper interview the Lebanese Minister of Information declared that the government expects that the programs aired by the religious stations be in agreement with the Lebanese basic positions and with the constitution of the country in a way that will strengthen common citizenship and the service of the nation. (29)

An opponent of the previous regime, Salim el Hoss, headed the Lebanese Council of Ministers when a new president, Emile Lahoud, took office. The new government reconsidered the applications rejected by the previous regime and consequently three more licenses were granted. Interestingly, the stations receiving the new licenses were ones that opposed the former Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri. These are: the New Television (NTV), in June 1999; The Independent Communication Channel International (ICNI) and United Television (UTV), both in September 1999.

While newspaper readership is not widely spread in Lebanon and the Arab world in general, radio and television are available in almost every household in Lebanese urban areas (30). Television reception is not only of Lebanese local channels but the cable connection is widely spread in the major Lebanese cities.

Development of satellite broadcasting 
The early 1990s witnessed the accelerating spread of satellite broadcasting in the Arab world. Lebanon was no exception. Satellite reception dishes became among the fastest selling commodities in Lebanon and the Arab Gulf countries. At least 400 to 450 unlicensed satellite television distribution companies are presently supplying satellite subscription to some 250,000 households. December 1998 statistics by Ipsos-Stat, a media research company, suggest that 58.2% of all Lebanese households had cable subscription to satellite stations (31). The cable operators usually subscribe to the different satellite systems, such as Orbit, and/or install reception dishes then distribute the signals they get through a cable system.

The major cry against the illegal operators comes from the local television stations that are losing a major share of their audiences to the cable system. The satellite stations are not very concerned with this phenomenon since the Lebanese market is very small and they wouldn't get all the present subscribers now watching them to actually pay the high fees for a smaller selection of stations. They are, however, considering raising their subscription fees paid by the operators.

Lebanese businessmen and television stations saw an excellent profit potential in this new development. Two stations ventured into this field even before getting officially licensed. They were LBCI and Future Television who established LBCSAT and Future International SAT respectively. Both satellite programs were ranked among the leading satellite programs in the Arab Gulf countries, an important source of advertising income (32).

Founded in February 1993, Future Television started, in October 1994, a trial satellite broadcasting over the footprint of Arabsat 1D. The testing period lasted two months. It was then launched on Arabsat 2A. Future International Television has 5-meter and 7-meter dishes installed in its Beirut and Sidon sites. An additional 13-meter dish was later installed in the government earth station in Jouret el Ballout as a redundant uplink facility. Future International TV covers the Middle East, North Africa and Southern Europe. It does not currently reach the American continent or Australia or the Far East. Future International TV is not coded and is available on Arabsat 2A medium C-band, downlink frequency 3863.75 Mhz.

Realizing the commercial and professional importance of satellite broadcasting LBCI plunged into this field in April 1996 when it established LBCSAT, a free satellite channel. The channel has been broadcasting 22 hours a day since January 1997. Later in 1997 LBC launched three new encrypted channels: LBC Europe, LBC America and LBC Australia. Today, LBC Europe is broadcasting 16 hours a day while the two other channels broadcast around the clock. A number of recent audience studies indicate that LBCSAT has a leading position in Saudi Arabia and the Arab Gulf countries. LBCSAT programs are available on Arabsat 2A, 26 degree east, C-band, downlink frequency 3740.75 Mhz.

Faced with the success of both Lebanese satellite stations the Government decided that the best way to respond was to have its own station, Tele Liban get into satellite broadcasting. An official government decision was adopted late in 1999 and Tele Liban began its satellite broadcast in the first week of March 2000. The TL satellite service is available simultaneously on ArabSat A3 and NileSat, covering the Arab world and part of Europe. However, it is now merely broadcasting its terrestrial programming via satellite, not special programs to satisfy Arab viewers or the Lebanese Diaspora. A fourth station, al-Manar requested a license for satellite transmission. The government approved the request in April 2000 and the satellite service of al-Manar began a four-hour satellite on the eve of May 24, 2000, the day of the liberation of South Lebanon. After the Palestinian "intifada" broke out, on September 28, 2000, al-Manar increased its satellite broadcasting to 18-hours/day.

The success of Lebanese satellite stations encouraged two other stations to get into this field. MTV began its satellite service in November 2000, on the eve of its ninth anniversary, and New TV, which is expected to go on the air in December 2000, announced that it would start its satellite service at the same time. New TV has already embarked on a six-hour experimental broadcasting.

Satellite broadcasting in Lebanon faced a number of obstacles at the beginning, during the regime of President Hrawi and Prime Minister Hariri. The first obstacle was to get government clearance to get a satellite connection. The second and more serious one was for the stations to secure the right to broadcast news. At the beginning the Hariri government did not permit both stations to transmit news on their satellite channels. The argument by the government was that Lebanese news programs might negatively affect Lebanon's relations with some Arab countries inasmuch as these countries may not tolerate the freedom the Lebanese media have.

LBCI challenged the ban and continued airing its satellite news program. The Hariri government reacted, late in December 1996, by deciding to censor "all news as well as direct and indirect political programs prepared for satellite broadcasting." A special "censorship team" was named including a number of well-respected journalists. Again, LBCI challenged the decision and sought a ruling from the state's judiciary advisory council. The council supported LBCI; consequently the Lebanese satellite channels won another battle.

The main problem facing broadcasting in Lebanon today is not that of government meddling for this interference is carried out within the "rules of the game" of Lebanese politics. It is primarily one of both the government and media institutions lacking the adequate structures and professionals that would provide the opportunity for this medium to contribute to its society's unity and cohesion as well as to address issues that are relevant to the every day life of the average citizen. Instead this medium gives predominate attention to commercialism at the expense of professionalism and social responsibility. Lebanese television officials, like the majority of their Arab colleagues, view the television medium essentially as one for passing time, thus we find that about half of the programs on Tele Liban, for example, of the entertainment type (33). Additionally, their news programs focus mainly on news of politicians, with little reflective coverage of issues that concern the general public (34). Examining the content of television programs one gets the impression that television officials believe that their viewers will accept whatever is given to them and, therefore, do not feel the necessity to make more effort to provide them with content that addresses their needs for information about issues that concern their livelihood and that are relevant to their culture and social norms and values. This has lead television stations to air low quality entertainment programs and talk shows that may entertain the common person but does not appeal to her/his mind or meet her/his intellectual and developmental needs. Thus we find in one television channel more than two thirds of its cultural programs presented in a foreign language. We also find that only one third of the programs directed at children were in Arabic and that the majority of the remaining children programs were presented without Arabic subtitles (35).

It is true that the Lebanese government has hampered the growth of television and kept broadcasting in a state of stagnation. It is also true that Lebanese television today, especially the type depicted on the satellite channels, has various inconsistent programs, policies and structures, predominantly foreign in orientation and barely relevant to the needs of Lebanese society or Arab world. If one examines the content of these satellite channels one finds the following: 
"1. Television soap operas that come from two main sources, Egypt and Syria. 
2. News programs that also originate from two main sources, local and international news agencies and television news services. 
3. Broadcasting programs that lack a picture, where an anchor responds, usually with sarcasm, to phone calls from viewers. 
4. Talk shows, which are usually between a discussant and a political or economic personality. The discussant frequently is a reactor to what the guest has to say not a pro-actor. 
5. Entertainment programs in the form of contests and games which depend on bribing the viewers with prizes donated by advertisers. 
6. Movies the majority of which are either old Egyptian or American, and 
7. Children's programs that are usually imported from the US" (36)

Prior to the advent of satellite broadcasting in Lebanon and other third world countries television broadcasting constituted a limited local problem. It was restricted to few channels for a moderate capacity audience. It is true that national audiences then had to watch programs that were controlled by censors "to protect the interests of the country." Today, however, with satellite broadcasting, the national audiences are at the mercy of tens of satellite stations whose broadcasters continuously bombard them with low culture and a variety of low quality programs, usually dealing with sex, religion, or slanted political news.

The present content of Lebanese satellite channels suggests that the viewer is not important in the satellite broadcasting specifications. Lebanese satellite broadcasters do not seems to be concerned with improving the level of knowledge among their audiences nor with developing positive criticism among them. They do not aim at introducing new broadcasting concepts that gives attention to national development, or cultural and intellectual creativity.

In conclusion, Lebanese television broadcasting and in particular satellite broadcasting lacks both professionalism and civic commitment. It is in urgent need for reorganization in order to cope with the role it is expected to play in the reconstruction of a country that has suffered from a long and costly civil war. While the government is in need to provide the climate of freedom that is conducive for the broadcasting medium, the broadcasters need to be committed to their social responsibility and to developing a well-trained corps of professionals in the different fields of television production. 


1. See, for example, Douglas Boyd, "Lebanese Broadcasting: Unofficial Electronic Media During a Prolonged Civil War," Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media (35:3, 1991), Donald Browne, "Television as an Instrument of National Stabilization", Journalism Quarterly, 52 (1975), 692-698, and Dajani, Nabil, Disoriented Media in a Fragmented Society: the Lebanese Experience (Beirut: American University Press, 1992) and Lebanon: Studies in Broadcasting (London: International Institute of Communication, 1979).

2. See, for example, Douglas Boyd, Broadcasting in the Arab World (Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1999) and William Rugh, The Arab Press (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1979).

3. "TV networks prepare to wipe out satellite pirates." The Daily Star newspaper, February 25, 1999, 2.

4. For an understanding of Lebanon's socio-political structure see, for example, Leonard Binder, Politics in Lebanon (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1966), Carole Dagher , Bring Down the Walls: Lebanon's Postwar Challenge ( New York: St. Martins Press, 2000), Nazih Richani, Dilemmas of Democracy and Political Parties in Sectarian Societies, ( New York" St. Martins Press,1998) and Kamal Salibi, A House With Many Mansions: The History of Lebanon Reconsidered, (London: I.B. Tauris, 1988).

5. See also Marwan Kraidy, "State Control of Television News in 1990s Lebanon," Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly , 76(3) (1999) 485-498. Michael Johnson in "Political Bosses and Their Gangs: Zu'ama and Qabadayat in the Sunni Quarters of Beirut," in Ernest Gellner and John Waterbury (eds), Patrons and Clients in Mediterranean Societies, ( London : Duckworth, 1977), suggests that governments in Lebanon are run by a coalition of political bosses (zu'ama) who are assisted by tough guys (quabadayat). When the law is in conflict with the interest of these zu'ama it is superseded.

6. Such accusations were voiced among others, at different occasions, by former President Elias Hrawi, Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and Minister Walid Jumblat, all when they were in office.

7. No union or code of ethics exists for television in Lebanon, although the most recent legislation moved in the direction of creating a board that may facilitate developing such a code of ethics.

8. The first non-commercial television station in the Arab world is the Iraqi government television station in Baghdad, which was established in 1957.

9. At the time the ministry was named Ministry of Guidance and News.

10. Samir Makdisi, "An Appraisal of Lebanon's Post War Economic Development and a Look to the Future." The Middle East Journal. (Summer 1977), 267-80.

11. Legislative decree number 770.

12. Early agreements required that the television stations accept, even provide offices on their premises for, two government censors: one representing the Ministry of Interior (who would censor imported programs), and the other representing the Ministry of Information (who would censor local programs).

13. The personnel of Tele Liban staged a number of unsuccessful general strikes.

14. A person who kills a female member of the family for losing her virginity outside wedlock or "tarnishes the family honor" receives a reduced sentence in Lebanon.

15. For an account of television programs in Lebanon see: Nabil Dajani, "An Analysis of the Press in Four Arab Countries," in The Vigilant Press, 1989, (Paris: Unesco Reports and Papers on Mass Communication, No. 103), 75-88, and Dajani, Disoriented Media in a Fragmented Society:, 114-119 and 132-140.

16. "Ministry of Transportation's study on audiovisual channels", an-Nahar newspaper, Tuesday, January 23, 1996, 5.

17. "Minister Mansour presents his plan for reorganizing the audiovisual media," an-Nahar newspaper, August 9, 1991, 3.

18. an-Nahar, ibid. August 9, 1991, 3.

19. "The story of the decree that raised a storm: How it was, how it became, and how it was issued." as-Safir newspaper, January 15, 1992, 3.

20. "Is the Press facing a new battle for its freedom?" an-Nahar, January 21, 1992, 3, and , "A dangerous proposal." as-Safir, January 11, 1992, 3.

21. "Opposing and supporting positions towards the reorganization of the media", as-Safir, January 11, 1992, 2.

22. "The issue of information raises more than one question." as-Safir, January 13, 1992, 3.

23. The government did not keep up to this promise. In March 1994 it restricted broadcasting political news to Tele Liban. The parliament, however, voted to remove this ban few months later.

24. Official Gazette, Law No. 382, special supplement to issue No. 45, November 10, 1994.

25. "Terms of Conditions for Licensing Television Broadcasting," Chapter 5, general rules. See also "Terms of conditions for licensing television broadcasting", an-Nahar newspaper, February 2, 1996, 6, and "Terms of conditions for licensing political and non-political television broadcasting," al-Liwa newspaper, February 5, 1996, 3.

26. Official Gazette, No. 47, September 16, 1996, 3315-3319.

27. See "The information scandal shows, with detailed names, that the freedom of the Lebanese is in the hands of the politicians." ad-Diyar newspaper, October 5, 1996. 1.

28. Al-Manar's website describes its mission as follows: "Lebanese TV channels have been overwhelmed by a trend of movies and programs that can only be described as immoral. At the time when the Lebanese -such as any people coming out of a devastating war-needed what could erase the effects of that conflict and work on building the personality of good citizenship, numerous TV channels have been broadcasting programs that would decay one's ethics and provoke his or her instincts in addition to instigating violence and identifying with western living patterns which are quite remote from our Islamic and Eastern values and culture" http//www.almanar.com.lb

29. As-Safir newspaper, March 6, 2000.

30. Findings of a study in progress by the author of the media habits among two groups (political elites and workers) in the capital of Lebanon, Beirut, show that all the elite members have television sets and 98% of the workers have at least one television set.

31. "TV networks prepare to wipe out satellite pirates." The Daily Star newspaper, February 25, 1999. 2. Findings of the study in progress by the author show that 90% of the Lebanese elites have cable access compared to 44% of the workers.

32. According to surveys conducted by the Pan Arab Research Center (PARC) during the period December 96-January 97, and by the Middle East Research and Consultancy (MERC) during the period March-April, 1997.

33. See Dajani, Disoriented Media in a Fragmented Society, 132

34. See Nabil Dajani, "Managing the crisis of public services in West Beirut," in Beyhum, Nabil, Reconstruire Beyrouth, (Paris: Etudes Sur LeMonde Arabe No.5, 1991); 195-208, and Dajani, The Vigilant Press, 75-88.

35. Dajani, Disoriented Media in a Fragmented Society. 140.

36. Ali Jamali, "Where does the audience go in the morning, evening and late at night?" as-Safir newspaper, December 2, 1997, 20.


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About Nabil Dajani

Nabil Dajani (Ph.D. University of Iowa, Iowa City) is professor of communication and chair of the Department of Social & Behavioral Sciences at the American University of Beirut. Presently he is a Visiting Fulbright Scholar at the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University.

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