Lebanese Begin Watching World Cup for Free on beIN as TL Airs Matches without Agreement

State-run Tele Liban broadcast its first 2014 World Cup match on Monday evening, although a deal reached between the government and beIN Sports' sole agent in Lebanon did not involve granting TL the rights to air the tournament.

Earlier in the day, Telecommunications Minister Butros Harb had announced that the Lebanese would be able starting Monday evening to watch the Brazil-hosted FIFA World Cup, which kicked off last week, without paying any additional fees.

“This is not piracy. Those who had usurped the Lebanese people's right to watch the World Cup are the ones practicing piracy,” TL chairman Talal al-Maqdessi told MTV.

Maqdessi gained the support of MP Simon Abi Ramia, head of the youth and sports parliamentary committee, who voiced dismay at “the nature of the agreement reached between the Lebanese state and the SAMA firm.”

Local cable providers “only cover 15% of the total number of TV viewers in Lebanon,” Abi Ramia lamented.

In a phone conversation with Maqdessi, the MP asked that TL “begin broadcasting World Cup matches starting tonight and without any delay, so that all the fans of the World Cup can see the games.”

Minister Harb had stated during a joint press conference that the problem was resolved with SAMA, the sole agent of beIN Sports in Lebanon, and that “an agreement was reached with the agent which ensured that the rights of all sides are preserved.”

He added that SAMA had agreed to allow the Lebanese people to watch the World Cup through local cable companies.

“The government will compensate SAMA with USD3 million in funds for the company's losses. The telecom companies Alfa and MTC will take part in this compensation,” the Telecom Minister added.

Harb noted that under the deal, TL would not be granted the rights to broadcast the games.

Maqdessi lamented the decision and stressed that “Tele Liban will broadcast the games even if that cost me my resignation.”

The National Media Council expressed reservation on the agreement which fell short of allowing TL to broadcast the tournament to citizens who do not have cable subscriptions.

For his part, Information Minister Ramzi Jreij stressed that the Lebanese people's right to watch the World Cup should take precedence over the interests of a commercial company.

beIN Sports is a global network of sports channels jointly owned and operated by Qatari Sports Investments, an affiliate of Al-Jazeera Media Networks. It has purchased the rights to broadcast the World Cup in the Middle East.

Many people had not been able to afford the fees imposed by SAMA to purchase receiver cards that allow them access to the World Cup matches.

On Friday, cable providers in Lebanon had criticized the state for failing to address the issue of broadcasting the World Cup.

General coordinator of the network of cable providers in Lebanon Mahmoud Khaled said during a press conference: “The state shied away from its responsibilities regarding this issue.”

In the absence of laws regulating the telecommunications sector, most Lebanese get their subscriptions from mostly illegal cable companies that operate through piracy and charge about LBP 20,000 ($13) a month.

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