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Free football for all as Telecoms Ministry cuts $3M deal

Telecoms Minister Boutros Harb shakes hands with Sama representative Hasan Zein during a press conference in Beirut, Monday, June 16, 2014. (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)

BEIRUT: Lebanese were finally able to watch World cup games for free after a $3 million ministry deal reached Monday to allow cable providers to screen the games.

Defying the agreement which excluded its right to broadcast the games, Tele Liban began screening the matches Monday night as well.

“His excellency the information minister considered this event [the World Cup] a ‘force majeure,’ [superior force],” said Talal Makdessi, chairman of Tele Liban, referring to a legal term for an extraordinary event that frees a company of its usual contractual obligations.

He told The Daily Star that it was the right of every Lebanese citizen, in every village, to be able to watch the World Cup, and the only way to do that was by broadcasting the games on Tele Liban’s free state-TV channel.

Makdessi said he had not received any permission to broadcast the matches. “I did not ask [permission],” he said, adding, “I take full responsibility ... If there is any [blowback] I don’t care. I will present my resignation.”

Makdessi said that Tele Liban’s broadcast of the World Cup is “for the people.”

“I cannot be more clear.”

Earlier Monday, the ministers of information, telecom, and youth and sports announced that a $3 million deal with Sama company allowing Lebanese with cable subscription to watch World Cup games.

“I have been keen to provide the Lebanese with their right to watch this championship, but we cannot be oblivious to ‘Sama’ company’s exclusive rights,” Information Minister Ramzi Joreige told Voice of Lebanon radio.

Cable-provider Sama initially had exclusive rights to broadcast the global football tournament and anyone willing to watch the games had to pay a certain subscription fee to the company. But the Telecoms Ministry paid the company $3 million out of a $4 million contract to attain the rights.

“The telecoms minister, assisted by Alfa and touch, provided this company with $3 million compensation,” said Makdessi, adding that Sama has received “much more than $1 million” in World Cup package purchases, meaning the company had not suffered a loss.

With Tele Liban airing the games now, Lebanese who don’t have cable subscription can also watch the games. But Hasan Zein, Sama’s executive director, considered Tele Liban’s act “piracy.”

However, the wrangling over who can and cannot screen the matches may have been for nothing.

When asked how he felt now that he could watch the game at home, Karim Badra, a recent AUB graduate, said “Can’t I already? Everyone has bootleg satellite.” Prior to the deal, some Lebanese managed to watch the matches on a Turkish channel made available by some cable providers.

“If you get a good variety ... you watch on some weird Arabic channel with Turkish video and an Arabic voice.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 17, 2014, on page 4.

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Summary

Lebanese were finally able to watch World cup games for free after a $3 million ministry deal reached Monday to allow cable providers to screen the games.

Makdessi said that Tele Liban's broadcast of the World Cup is "for the people".

Earlier Monday, the ministers of information, telecom, and youth and sports announced that a $3 million deal with Sama company allowing Lebanese with cable subscription to watch World Cup games.

Cable-provider Sama initially had exclusive rights to broadcast the global football tournament and anyone willing to watch the games had to pay a certain subscription fee to the company.

With Tele Liban airing the games now, Lebanese who don't have cable subscription can also watch the games.


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