Wednesday,20 September, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1352, (13 - 19 July 2017)
Wednesday,20 September, 2017
Issue 1352, (13 - 19 July 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Off air until further notice

Al-Hayat broadcasts have been halted until the company settles its outstanding debts, reports Mohamed Abdel-Baky

 

A still photo of Al-Hayat presenter Tamer Amin before the channel went off air
A still photo of Al-Hayat presenter Tamer Amin before the channel went off air

Media Production City (MPC) has halted the transmission of Al-Hayat’s six TV channels after the company that owns the network notched up 12 months’ worth of arrears. The crisis adds a new chapter to the challenges facing the broadcast industry in Egypt.

MPC says it already has filed a case against Al-Hayat with the prosecution-general for bouncing cheques issued to pay its debts days after the network’s channels were taken off air.

“Since April we have warned the network’s administration on several occasions it must abide by the law and pay arrears of LE19.9 million,” MPC said in a statement.

“Several deadlines were made for Al-Hayat to pay in installments but the network has failed to meet the schedule in clear violation of the contract between MPC and Al-Hayat.”

“Al-Hayat pledged in June this year to pay LE10 million by the beginning of July. Nothing has been received till now.”

The statement added that the cheques the company had written all bounced.

According to a counter-statement issued by Al-Hayat TV, “the board is keen on paying its debts”. It also claimed that the statement issued by MPC contained inconsistencies.

“We don’t understand why we are off air. We are not the only channel that owes MPC money,” said Al-Hayat.

Al-Hayat’s response prompted MPC to release documents relating to alleged violations of the terms and conditions of its contract with MPC.

“Al-Hayat was given more than one chance to pay its debts but has displayed no commitment to meeting its agreements. It is clearly facing a huge financial crisis,” said MPC, “we have filed a complaint to the prosecutor-general about its violations.”

Al-Hayat network was founded in 2008 by the head of the Wafd Party, businessman Al-Sayed Al-Badawi. The entertainment network’s six channels were regular fixtures in viewing figure league tables until it was hit by financial problems in 2016. 

Al-Badawi faced charges of financial malpractice after it was discovered he had used money from Sigma, a pharmaceutical company he partly owns, to fund Al-Hayat in 2015. The case only ended after Sigma’s shareholders acquired a majority holding in Al-Hayat.

Immediately after being taken off air Al-Hayat began broadcasting from outside Egypt, using UTELSAT, but halted its programming within hours to avoid facing yet more charges.

MPC says Al-Hayat’s ability to broadcast from outside of Egypt suggested the channel continues to have access to substantial funds and demonstrates a “lack of seriousness in addressing its outstanding debts”.

The cost of buying frequency for overseas broadcasting is at least LE5 million annually through providers in Jordan or Cyprus, and the sum is payable in advance.

“We are not seeking to shut down Al-Hayat. We want to see more Egyptian TV networks but naturally we expect our partners to be serious about the contracts they sign,” said MPC.

Head of the Higher Council for Media Regulation (HCMR) Makram Mohamed Ahmed says HCMR is now mediating between Al-Hayat and MPC in an attempt to end the crisis and get the network back on air.

“Al-Hayat is a respected national TV network and we are endeavouring to help it reach an accommodation with MPC and begin broadcasting again,” said Ahmed.

But the sums owed to MPC are not Al-Hayat’s only financial problem. For the last 10 months it has regularly failed to pay its employees. In 2016 workers went on strike twice in an attempt to force the network to pay their salaries. The network also owes millions to production companies for the broadcasting rights to Ramadan soaps which must be paid by end of the year.

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