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French Version

Western firms shy away from Lebanon expo

Mideast's first Hd channel unveiled

The specter of Dubai Media City (DMC), the hub of the regional satellite television market, loomed over the Biel Center Thursday at the start of the first annual Middle East Broadcasters Show.

The two-day event, billed as both a conference and a trade show, claims to be geared toward all stations included in the 22-state Pan-Arab television market, according to Ahmad al-Maaz, president of the Middle East Broadcasters association (MEB), which organized and cosponsored the event in partnership with satellite provider, ARABSAT.

"We are fixing the media infrastructure in the Middle East so we can all benefit from the solutions. We never sit together at a table as Arab broadcasters and discuss our problems. There are more important things to worry about than Al-Arabiyya versus Al-Jazeera and LBC versus future," Maaz told The Daily Star.

The first step toward achieving this objective is upgrading the technology used by television networks in the Middle East. Like the Cable, Sattelite, Broadcast and Communications Exhibition (CABSAT) in Dubai, the MEB show brings together international and regional vendors to introduce the latest digital and electronic communication products to Arab broadcasters. The focal point of the MEB show is the unveiling of MEB-HD, the fist high definition television station in the Middle East.

If the MEB show represents Lebanon's attempt to "steal Dubai's thunder" (in the words of one vendor) by attracting Pan-Arab Sattelite stations away from DMC, this year's turnout does not bode well. CABSAT has achieved its status by consistently luring Western technology vendors and Arab satellite broadcasters over the past decade. This relationship was notably absent from the MEB show, with most of the booths occupied by either Lebanese firms or local subsidiaries of international companies, with the exception of Panasonic and Apple.

"Dubai is a big, well established show," said attendee Christopher Darnley, the sales manager of JVC's European Export division.

"The reason we don't have a stand here, and the reason all my European manufacturer friends are just looking around and not showing here, is because it's the first year. It's not worth the investment," Darnley added.

Ben Davenport, the Marketing Manager of the European branch of OMNEON, a media server provider based in America, acknowledged that even though few major manufacturers attended, the Pan-Arab turnout was better than he expected, for "a first show."

"We are a company based in the U.S., and none of our colleagues would come here because of the negative connotations associated with Lebanon, but I like Lebanon. Ultimately activities around the exhibition are why its not succeeding like it could," said Davenport.

A representative of the Lebanese subsidiary of a western firm who preferred to remain anonymous, used equally euphemistic terminology, referring to a bribing incident, where a Lebanese customs official tried to charge him an exorbitant duty on his equipment, as a "logistical issue."

"Lebanon just doesn't work as well as Dubai. It's like going to the airport because you need to fly somewhere, but there is no plane to take you there," the representative said.

Maaz insists that though the MEB show is not trying to compete with CABSAT, for the edge it has on its more reputable and hospitable exhibition is its focus on comprehensive reform. For Maaz, offering media magnates computers to replace their typewriters is only a partial solution to the problems hindering the regional media's performance.

Beirut 12-12-2005
Lysandra Ohrstrom
The Daily Star

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