Lebanon’s media sector has been a bastion of freedom in the Middle East. It is now beginning its transition into digital formats, and shaking off past limitations. Such limitations were highlighted in 2009, when the global economic crisis resulted in media layoffs following the withdrawal of Gulf petro-dollars from the industry. Thus, debate has begun on reform and a new framework to regulate the sector and the legal rights of journalists and media workers. The move online is also beginning to necessitate new codes for media and telecommunications.
Today, the Lebanese publishing sector is one of the most active in the Middle East, including more than 10 daily newspapers and over 1,500 weekly and monthly magazines. It is also estimated that around 50% of periodicals read throughout the region originate in Lebanon. With freedom of speech underpinned in the Lebanese constitution, moves seen as stifling to the sector are met with fervent opposition from civil rights groups and journalists. “You can never reach your creative maximum if your freedom is stifled,” Ibrahim Al Amine, Chairman of Al-Akhbar newspaper, told TBY, adding “there is also an old heritage in the press and journalism, dating back to even before Lebanon’s independence.” The main news agency is state-owned National News Agency, while Central News Agency is a local, private agency, and Arabic services including Reuters, Agence France Press (AFP), and Deutsche Presse-Agentur (DPA), make up the mix.
According to the Audiovisual Law, the number of terrestrial television stations is limited to seven—of which there is a mix of public and private, and since 1994, applications have been evaluated by the National Audiovisual Media Council (NAMC). There are also around 40 radio stations in the country, five of which account for the majority of listeners. Internet freedom is also hailed as the most developed in the MENA region, and the country boasts several online Arabic and English news portals as well as an active blogger community.
Advertising activity is also strong in the country, with 2010 being considered a record year, topping previous highs of over $100 million seen in the 1990s, which had made Lebanon’s advertising industry the most active in the Middle East.
Prior to 1963 there were more than 400 newspapers in Lebanon, but following the 1963 press law the number was limited to 105, with 53 dailies. Certain foreign publications can also be imported and sold in the country. There are currently 12 Arabic dailies; including Al Waseet International’s Al-Balad news, first published in 2003 and since 2010 also offering a French edition; Al-Akhbar, a daily left-wing paper first published in 2006 and with a circulation of 15,500 copies; Ad-Diyar, An-Nahar, As-Safir, Al-Mustaqbal, Al-Anwar, Al-Journhouria, Al-Liwaa, El-Shark, Al-Binaa, and Al-Bayrak. There are also three Armenian dailies: Ararad, Aztag, and Zartonk, and The Daily Star is the country’s foremost English daily, which also circulates around the region. Recently, however, it has been joined by Al-Akhbar’s English news portal. “The site aims to make debates and analyses circulating in the Arabic media sphere accessible to English speakers worldwide,” Chairman Ibrahim Al Amine, told TBY.
Advertising is one of the main sources of profit in the newspaper business, and despite fears of a drop in advertising budgets 2010 was a “record year, exceeding all expectations,” Bashar Kiwan, CEO of Al-Balad, told TBY. “Most of our revenues are generated from advertising and copy sale—40% copy sales, mainly home subscriptions rather than point of sale, and 60% from advertising.” Al Waseet International has also struck a deal with TIME Inc. to launch Fortune Arabia, which will also be launched in Lebanon, as well as in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, and Egypt, following successful launches in the UAE and Kuwait.
TELEVISION & RADIO
The seven terrestrial channels together with satellite channels account for 11 TV stations based in Lebanon. Private terrestrial channels include Al Jadeed, a 24-hour pan-Arab station offering general-interest programming in Arabic; Future Television and its sister channel Future News; LBC Nagham, a Lebanese music-television channel; the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation (LBC), the first private television station in the country; Murr Television; and Tele Lumiere, the first Christian television station in the country. Tele Liban is the first public television network, and is a terrestrial and satellite television network. Satellite channels include Al-Manar, a station affiliated with Hezbollah boasting 15 million daily viewers worldwide; the National Broadcasting Network (NBN); and OTV. Lebanon still has some way to go, however, in becoming a center for television broadcasting in the region. According to the Arab Advisors Group, around 90 Arab satellite channels compete for over 70 million viewers. While 34% of channels are located in Egypt’s Media Production City, and 19% are found in Dubai Media City, only 12% are located in Lebanon.
In radio, around five stations account for the majority of listeners, while there are approximately 40 stations in total—20 AM, 22 FM, and four short wave, broadcasting to an estimated 85% of the population. The various stations reflect the views of differing political and religious affiliations, and the most popular stations include Radio Liban, founded in 1939 as one of the first radio stations in the Arab world, Sawt Lubnan, Idhaat an-Nur, Sawt al-Ghadd, Sawt Lubnan al-Hurr, and Sawt ash-Shaab.
Although internet penetration remains low, the sector is relatively competitive, and with plans afoot to boost speeds, more and more media outlets are digitalizing their content. There are currently a handful of Lebanese online news sites in Arabic and English, including MEA News, Naharnet, NOW Lebanon, Asrar-Al-Balad, Al-Ankabout, and Ya Libnan. The challenge, according to Al-Akhbar Chairman Ibrahim Al Amine, has been “trying to move the website from being an online ‘re-print’ of the print edition, to offering web-specific content and news throughout the day.” Al-Akhbar has taken advantage of the medium to launch an English-language edition of its online site, and the online scene has also “created a new reality for the advertising world,” according to the CEO of Al-Balad, Bashar Kiwan, who outlined a co-marketing agreement parent company Al Waseet had made with Google.
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