LBC founders fight for ownership

Lebanese satcaster caught in civil war

DUBAI — The Lebanese Broadcasting Corp. is returning to its roots.

Born out of Lebanon’s civil war as a mouthpiece for a powerful Christian militia, the satcaster is now consumed in a civil war of its own. But the fight is over profits — not ideology — as founders struggle for ownership of what grew from the country’s first private station into a global network.

True to politics in Lebanon, it took an external force to heat up the battle between LBC’s founding party, the Lebanese Forces (LF), and company management. Saudi billionaire and media mogul Prince Waleed bin Talal inched toward stakeholder dominance of LBC International while LF leader Samir Geagea was serving an 11-year jail term for war crimes and other charges.

Management was transferred during that time to Pierre Daher, an LBC co-founder who oversaw the LBC-Rotana merger in July and an increase in Prince Waleed’s stake to 85%. The Rotana multimedia brand, owned fully by Prince Waleed, took over ad sales for LBC from Choueiri Group — another major change Geagea was not a part of. Rotana will also start selling the LBC channel as part of its portfolio in 2009.

Geagea wants in on the conglomerate. He filed an ownership lawsuit against LBC last year, and is keeping the issue circulating in the local media.His party issued a statement last month accusing LBC of abandoning its roots for profits. Daher “has the attitude of a militia, because he sold most of LBC’s shares without consulting anyone, earning him a lot of money,” the LF statement says. It also says LF news “is subject to scandalous neglect from LBC.”

Last year, LBC cancelled an interview with Geagea a week after his lawsuit went public. Geagea called the decision “irresponsible, unprofessional, and illegal,” while Daher told a Lebanese newspaper: “It was not a reply to the lawsuit. There is another reason which I prefer not to reveal at the present moment.”

Daher shot back at the LF’s latest statement with a personal memo to the press, saying LBC “refuses to be a mouthpiece of any political party.” LBC employees are caught in the crossfire of the otherwise innocuous verbal rally. The network’s security chief — an LF member — has reportedly ignored a court order that removes him from his post. Daher has accused him of “an ongoing occupation and violation of company buildings,” and referred the issue to Lebanese authorities.

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