Cash-strapped Future TV suspends operations after 26 years on air
BEIRUT - Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced the suspension of work at his Future TV satellite television channel after 26 years of broadcasting, citing financial reasons for halting operations.
Al-Mustaqbal newspaper, also owned by the Hariri family, closed its print operations in January for similar reasons, thus threatening the survival of Hariri’s Future Movement as a political project while Hezbollah’s media empire remained very active despite the militant group’s own financial woes.
In a statement issued September 18 by his media office, Hariri said: “It is with a heavy heart that I announce today the decision to suspend work at Future TV and settle workers’ wages for the same financial reasons that led to the closing of Al-Mustaqbal newspaper.”
“The decision was not an easy one for me or for the men and women of the Future Movement nor is it for the generation of the founding personnel and the millions of Lebanese and Arab viewers of Future TV who had stayed loyal to the station for more than a quarter of a century,” Hariri added.
The decision highlights the worsening financial crisis in which Hariri has been trapped since the dissolution of Saudi-Oger, his father’s construction and services company in Saudi Arabia. The company had been the pillar of the Hariri family fortune.
Lebanese experts said the Hariri establishment has entered a post-affluence stage. It was Rafik Hariri’s financial prosperity that allowed him to launch his political project in the 1990s.
They pointed out that Hariri’s financial woes were affecting his political base and close circles and that the closure of some of Hariri’s business ventures, especially in the media and including those affiliated with the Future Movement, indicates that financial backing from Saudi Arabia had stopped and that there had been a change in the relationship between Riyadh and Saad Hariri.
Sources said Hariri was paying the price of financial mismanagement within his business institutions as well as for political positions he has taken that were not consistent with Saudi orientations.
Rafik Hariri founded Future TV in 1993 as he was building tools for political influence.
The station broadcast entertainment, cultural and political programmes while launching the careers of several media stars.
The station’s employees have been on strike since the end of July because they had not received their wages. Since then, the channel has been broadcasting old programmes. Many employees had suffered years of delays and piecemeal payments of wages.
Al-Mustaqbal published its last print copy in January but continued as a news website.
Hariri vowed to “follow up on the dues owed to” workers at the TV station and the newspaper. He said “the station is not taking the decision to stop work to become part of the past. Rather, it is announcing the end of a stage in its journey, to be able to address the accumulated financial burdens and prepare for a new phase, looking forward to returning to work in the coming months, in a new style in line with the resources available.”
The statement did not specify what the new phase would be but local media reports stated that an Arab businessman close to Hariri intended to buy a stake in the television channel and relaunch it.
Future TV Director-General Ramzi Jebili told Agence France-Presse of a “restructuring” operation at the channel and of “a temporary phase during which the payments of the channel’s debts will be rescheduled” in preparation for relaunching it.
The media sector in Lebanon is experiencing a prolonged crisis, mainly because of the cessation of internal and Arab political funding of the media, in addition to the emergence of electronic media and declining advertising revenues.
Several institutions laid off workers and many well-established newspapers ceased publication, notably As-Safir newspaper at the end of 2016 because of financial difficulties after 42 years in operation.