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June 2, 2006

Lebanonwire

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LBC, Lebanese Forces on verge of seperation over shares, politics

The separation of tracks between the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation (LBC) and the Christian right-wing Lebanese Forces (LF) has evoked heated debate between the station's general manager Pierre Daher and LF leader Samir Geagea, An-Nahar andAd-Diyar reported on Friday.

The pro-Syrian daily Ad-Diyar said that bickering between Geagea and Daher has been ongoing for months over financial and political motives. According to An-Nahar, Geagea was upset by comments made by Daher at a meeting he held on Wednesday for his staff.

Daher was quoted as saying, "The decision is mine... LBC will not be a propaganda tool for the Lebanese Forces," according to An-Nahar.

Daher went on to say that he will not allow the station to be subservient to a political party.

Sources close to the meeting told An-Nahar that Daher said he always wanted the TV station to be independent and open to Lebanon and the world, mainly the Arab world, but, "There has always been an intention to transform the station into a mouthpiece for a party," Daher added, according to the sources.

An-Nahar said that the main bone of contention between Daher and Geagea is the issue of shares in the TV station.

Sources said that Geagea had intended to replace Daher, which angered the LBC general manager.

Yet, a source close to the Lebanese Forces told An-Nahar that there is no problem between Geagea and Daher and that they had normal ties. The source denied allegations that the Lebanese Forces is interfering in LBC news or policy.

Meanwhile, Ad-Diyar quoted what it said were sources close to the LF as saying that what As-Safir published on Thursday regarding the separation of LBC from the party was part of a campaign against the anti-Syrian March 14 Forces, specifically against Geagea.

The sources said that this campaign started last month and was launched by Syrian-backed President Emile Lahoud and supported by other pro-Syrian officials, including former Prime Minister Omar Karami and Anwar Raja, the representative in Lebanon of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command. LBC was founded by the Lebanese Forces in 1985. Geagea is a member of the March 14 Coalition.

According to a report in the Lebanese daily As-Safir on Thursday, Pierre Daher, executive director of the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation International, said Wednesday that the station would break away from the LF and its leader, Samir Geagea, in a major restructuring drive "to reconfirm the station's independence."

Daher reportedly called his employees for an urgent meeting during which he said that he was not ready to sacrifice the station "that we built with our sweat, blood and tears ... to turn it into an LF station, which would no longer be for all the Lebanese and the Arabs."

Daher emphasized the move was part of a plan to protect the station and ensure its continuity and professional standing.

Daher also carried out administrative changes, notably naming anchorman George Ghanem editor in chief and putting him in charge of all political programs.

LBCI, the first private television station in Lebanon, was founded 10 years after the 1975 outbreak of the Civil War and was heavily associated with the LF. As a result of its political affiliations, the station was often targeted by the artillery shells of factions rivaling the right-wing Christian party, and its journalists have also been subject to violence.

The most recent attack against the station was September 25, 2005, when a car bomb targeted its leading anchorwoman May Chidiac. She lost her left leg and arm in the blast.

Chidiac, who was well known as an LF sympathizer, was also a staunch critic of Syria. The attack against her was one of a string of bombings aimed at anti-Syrian figures including the February 2005 blast that killed former Premier Rafik Hariri.

According to reports, some LBC shares were sold to pro-Syrian figures after the LF were outlawed and their leader sent to jail in 1994.

LBC went global in 1996, when it launched the LBC satellite channel, Al-Fadaiya al-Lubnaniya, which broadcasts across the Arab world. It now has several channels covering Europe, North America and Australia.

The station's regional and international outreach happened when Geagea was serving an 11-year jail sentence for crimes committed during the war.

After his release in 2005, LBCI went back to covering the LF chief prominently by assigning a journalist to stay with him at his home in North Lebanon.

Reports have circulated that LBCI is suffering from a drop in its ratings, which prompted this announcement. These remain unconfirmed. (MER, Naharnet, Lebanonwire)

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