Throughout Lebanon's 15-year civil war, which drew to a close in 1990, the TeleLiban television station was a symbol of the country’s will to pull though. Although it was sometimes targeted by several of the warring factions, it always kept on broadcasting.
But what artillery was unable to do, economics evidently did. Last week, after 40 years of broadcasting, the state-owned station was shut down and its 500 employees told to leave its Talat Khayat headquarters in West Beirut. The station was reportedly costing the state $33 million a year.
Ostensibly TeleLiban is to be closed for just 11 weeks, after which it will reopen in a different form. A television pioneer when it first was opened, in recent years TeleLiban has been forced to compete with a number of privately owned stations. One of them is owned by the Lebanese prime minister, Rafiq Hariri.
Exactly how TeleLiban will be restructured is not clear. Information Minister Ghazi has said it wall have fewer employees than it once did, but exactly how many of the former workers will be re-employed is not clear. It is quite possible that the station will eventually be sold.
The restructuring of TeleLiban has become a symbol for the Lebanese government The Information Ministry itself is being forced to cut two–thirds of its workforce, and the state power company, the national telecom, the water authority and the national carrier are all candidates for sale. Hariri’s government hopes to garner about five billion dollars from its privatization activities.
The aim of the privatization campaign is a reduction in the domestic debt, which is 70 percent of the total debt and carries a higher rate of interest than foreign debt. Lebanon's state debt stands at $25 billion—with more than a quarter in overseas debt—representing 147 percent of the country's gross domestic product (GDP). — (Albawaba-MEBG)
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)