Furious BeIN hits out over new Egyptian fine and vows to challenge judgement
By Callum Murray
BeIN Media Group has responded with fury to a second LE400-million ($22.7-million) fine imposed by the Cairo Economic Court on Nasser Al-Khelaifi, the chairman and chief executive of the Qatar-based pay-TV broadcaster, for allegedly violating anti-trust regulations.
In a statement, BeIN said that the new fine was “based on unfounded allegations by the Egyptian Competition Authority (ECA) that have no basis in fact or law.”
The fine, relating to BeIN’s decision to progressively move programming from Egypt’s Nile Sat to Qatar’s EshailSat which, it claims, has improved the feed and is, in any case, its own prerogative, follows one for the same amount imposed in January relating to BeIN’s bundling of packages.
The broadcaster, which is thought to believe that the fines are politically motivated, said in the statement: “BeIN categorically rejects the local Egyptian court’s judgment and will pursue all available legal means to challenge it.”
By switching its signal for the coverage of top soccer competitions from Nile Sat, the ECA accused BeIN of causing a direct economic loss to the satellite company.
However, BeIN said in its statement: “At all times, BeIN has acted in full compliance with all relevant laws, including competition law, and will pursue all legal means available to challenge the judgment.
“BeIN has been broadcasting high-quality TV content in Egypt to sports fans and consumers since 2005, and has an unrivalled track record in delivering premium quality broadcast and innovative content. Egypt has some of the most passionate and knowledgeable sports fans in the world and BeIN is proud to have delivered quality sports and entertainment programming across the country – to as wide an audience as commercially possible – for over a decade.
“The ECA’s unfounded allegations have no basis in competition law, but instead represent another troubling example of the local Egyptian regulator manifestly acting without valid authority and solely in self-interest. BeIN’s decision to progressively move its programming from Nile Sat (its backup satellite operator) to EshailSat (its primary satellite operator) is based on entirely valid commercial, technical and operational reasons and, in fact, results in improved satellite feed.
“Indeed, the Egyptian court’s direct interference in BeIN’s right to freely choose its satellite operators not only has no basis in law but, in of itself, constitutes a serious violation of competition law by the court, which is unilaterally conferring commercial advantage on Nile Sat over and above other satellite operators in the market. The court’s decision and fine send a deeply concerning message to any international broadcaster active or seeking to do business in Egypt. All this, ultimately, harms Egyptian sports fans.”
In the earlier case in January, the ECA pointed to BeIN Sports’ “violation” of competition rules via its packaging of subscriptions, forcing viewers to pay for events or tournaments that they might not be interested in.
However, BeIN flatly denied the allegations, saying in a statement that it “categorically rejects, and is shocked and appalled by, the judgement of the Cairo Economic Court in Egypt, which sends a deeply troubling message to any international entity seeking to do business in Egypt.”
BeIN added: “The claim that BeIN violated competition law by offering bundled sports packages ignores standard market practice in the Pay-TV industry not only in the MENA region, but around the world. Our premium sport packages provide the highest quality content at competitive prices to all of our customers, which has enabled BeIN – through significant investment – to become one of the leading broadcasters of sport events and competitions worldwide.
“For example, BeIN has been the trusted partner of FIFA and CAF in Egypt for over 10 years. The Egyptian court’s injunction requiring the sale of each sporting event on a stand-alone basis would prevent BeIN from continuing to carry on business in this market and require BeIN – and all international broadcasters active in Egypt – to fundamentally reconfigure their business models.”
BeIN concluded its statement with an apparent threat, saying: “Already, federations, leagues and rights holders have signalled their concern at the judgment, which undermines the actual market value of their rights. The practical reality of the judgment, if enforced, is the very real possibility of a black-out of certain high-profile live sports on Egyptian TV.”
The controversial court decision came as political relations between Egypt and Qatar remain strained, and as the North African country looks at ways of competing with BeIN across the Middle East and North Africa, with the likes of the Presentation Sports agency eyeing up rights acquisitions.
The ECA’s own statement claimed that Professor Mona Al-Jarf, chairperson of its board of directors, pointed out “that the decision of the Economic Court came to reflect the honour of the Egyptian judiciary and upholds the rights against the harmful practices committed by BeIN Sports.”
In 2014, the ECA accused BeIN of abusing its dominant position regarding coverage in Egypt of the Fifa World Cup of that year.
Egypt is one of the nations embroiled in a fierce diplomatic row with Qatar, with many Gulf nations cutting ties with the sovereign country, accusing it of supporting terrorism, allegations flatly denied by Qatar.
Egypt’s competition regulator has also challenged the 12-year, $1-billion broadcast and sponsorship rights contract between the Lagardère Sports agency and CAF, the continental soccer body for Africa. However, that case is not thought to have significantly advanced since the ECA move at the start of last year, with various postponements in court.
The Presentation Sports agency has been critical of the CAF-Lagardère Sports alliance, claiming that it had offered $1.2 billion for the same rights, while also trying to buy rights in the MENA region from Lagardère (in an apparent attempt to take on the dominant BeIN).
Hossam El Badry, the coach of Egyptian soccer club Al Ahly, was suspended and fined by CAF for refusing to address BeIN’s reporters covering matches in the CAF Champions League.