Until the mid-1980s, Lebanon’s television scene was limited to two private stations, La Compagnie Libanaise de Télévision and Télé-Orient. These were acquired by the government in 1977 and merged into one company called Télé-Liban.
In 1985, Christian businessmen founded LBC as the mouthpiece of the Lebanese Forces party. Soon, it became the most popular station in the country and its success encouraged other political parties and financiers to venture into the field. Subsequently, TV stations rapidly proliferated until the 1994 Audiovisual Law limited their number to a handful of stations distributed among the major politicians who also represented the major religious sects.
There are nine television broadcast stations in Lebanon. These reach more than 97 percent of the adult Lebanese audience; the country also has five digital cable television companies, Cable Vision, Econet, City TV, Digiteck and UCL. Although hundreds of thousands of viewers subscribe to cable and satellite services, many providers operate without a license. For instance, in May 2015, eight Lebanese television stations filed a lawsuit against cable and satellite companies, alleging that they violated Articles 87 and 88 of the intellectual property law and Article 6 of the Audiovisual Law by not paying fees for the right to carry the broadcast stations’ content.
With the exception of the state-owned and scarcely viewed Télé-Liban, all the other eight Lebanese TV stations are directly linked to the different political and religious rival factions of the country (the pro-Western parliamentary majority vs. the pro-Iranian opposition). The result is a general lack of professional standards in reporting local, regional and international events, whilst the news agenda is deeply influenced by the different affiliations. Moreover, the success (and the granting of licences) of these TV stations is directly related to the fortunes of the political parties that support them.
LBC is owned by Pierre Daher with Saudi Prince Walid b. Talal as one of its main shareholders. When in the mid-1980s LBC started broadcastings as the first Lebanese private TV, its popularity rapidly breached Lebanon borders. Since 1996, LBC started broadcasting internationally, opening LBC Europe, LBC America and LBC Australia, targeting the Lebanese and Arab diaspora. For years and long before the appearance of pan-Arab TV Al Jazeera in 1996, LBC was the most-viewed station not only in Lebanon but also in Syria and the entire Middle East. In recent years, its audience share has been declining (54 percent in 2005, 48 percent in 2007, and 43 percent in 2010, AGB-Ipsos Stat). Politically it is one of the stations belonging to the so-called ‘pro-Western’ spheres and its schedule mainly focuses on local talk shows and news programs and imported entertainment formats adapted to the local market.
MTV (Murr Television) belongs to the same sphere of influence. Originally created in 1991 by businessman Gabriel Murr (not connected to the Michel Murr media group), it was closed under strong Syrian pressures in 2002 and finally re-launched at the beginning of 2009. In September 2009 MTV and LBC have announced the dismissal of dozens of their employees.
The Future Television is owned by the Hariri family and its first TV channel was launched in 1993, right after the first general elections held in the country in the post civil war era. The 1992 elections were dominated by Rafiq Hariri, a long-standing key political figure representing the Saudi interests in Lebanon. It is worth mentioning that the Future News headquarter was assaulted (alongside with Al-Mustaqbal newspaper) by scores of Hezbollah-led militiamen in central Beirut and forced into closing for some days in May 2008 during the short and bloody Lebanese internal conflict. After these events, the Future Television relocated its main premises in a Christian-dominated suburb on the Eastern outskirts of the Lebanese capital for security reasons. In late 2019, the prime minister in office Saad Hariri suspended until further notice the production of FutureTV, after having led Al-Mustaqbal newspaper to stop printing few months before, due to funding shortage. The suspension is officially intended to conduct a financial restructuring and program a re-launch of the platforms. However, the plan seems unlikely to have an implementation due to the financial crisis and the conditions of the employees, who have been striking for months over unpaid wages.
In the pro-Iranian sphere, Al-Mayadin (The Squares) stands out. It is a pan-Arab satellite television channel launched in June 2012 and broadcasting from Beirut. It has partially taken the place of Al-Manar Tv (Talifizyun al-Manar) affiliated with the Shiite movement Hezbollah. Its 'beacon' was launched in 1991 with the help of Iranian funds, and its harshly anti-Israel and anti-US rhetoric is now estimated to reach 15 million daily viewers worldwide. Between December 2015 and April 2016, in the midst of raising political and diplomatic tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia, the two major Arab satellite providers – Arabsat and Nilesat – stopped broadcasting Al-Manar TV under heavy Saudi pressures.
In addition to Al-Mayadin and Al-Manar, the pro-Iranian and pro-Syrian government sphere of Lebanese public opinion could count on NBN (National Broadcasting Network). This was founded in 1996 by the Shiite speaker of the Parliament and leader of the Amal (Hope) movement Nabih Berri. In fact NBN is widely and sarcastically known in Lebanon as the acronym of 'Nabih Berri News'. In 2000, it launched its satellite channel in order to reach the Lebanese Shiite diaspora in the Arab World, Africa and Europe. During the anti-government protest, NBN started to cover the evolution of the demonstrations and the various squares where they were taking place. Their coverage has been more extensive than Al-Manar, attempting to be an alternative to FutureTV owned by the Hariri family, once again dragging the political rivalry and competition in the media sector.
Formerly known as NewTv, the station has become Al-Jadid TV since 2001 (when it was relaunched after it reacquired the broadcasting licence following its forced closure by the government. It is owned by the local business tycoon Tahsin Khayyat and is Lebanon’s fastest growing local station. Al-Jadid TV has been expanding its audience reach (21 percent in 2005, 29 percent in 2008 and 32 percent in 2010, AGB-Ipsos Stat), climbing from fourth to second rank in two years. It has a populist approach and its growing popularity is partly due to investigative reports of public relevance, which sometimes make it a real embarrassment to the people in power and have caused legal issues to Khayyat.
In the midst of this predominantly Shiite media landscape, the pro-Iranian sphere can also count on the third main Christian channel, OTV (Orange TV), created in 2007 as the first Lebanese publicly-traded company by the current President of the Lebanese Republic, Fpm leader Michel Aoun. A minor TV station is Télé-Lumière (TV of Light), a religious educationally-based station launched in 1991 and owned by the Maronite Church.
The political patronage and affiliation emerged clearly during the anti-government protest started in October 2019, as the various news channels treated and covered the events in different ways. TV stations like LBCI, MTV and Al-Jadid extensively covered the ongoing protests from different areas of the country, showing an overall support to the demand of the protestors. Other stations like OTV, affiliated to the President Michel Aoun, Al-Manar and Al-Akhbar, affiliated to Hezbollah, supported the government and often downplayed, contrasted or simply ignored what was happening in Lebanese streets.