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Sun 13 Nov 2005 04:00 AM

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Choueiri: "I am not the godfather"

The most powerful man in Middle East media told an audience of his industry peers: “I am not the godfather”.

The most powerful man in Middle East media told an audience of his industry peers: “I am not the godfather”.

In a rare public appearance, Antoine Choueiri, chairman of the Choueiri Group, denied suggestions that his company was monopolising television advertising sales in the region, or that it engaged in dubious business practices.

The 66-year-old who handles the ad sales for the region’s largest broadcasters such as LBC, MBC, and Dubai TV, is believed by many to have a near stranglehold on the industry, and is said to force advertisers to spend money with TV stations that may not be in its best interests.

The Choueiri Group’s domination of the TV market led to the formation of the GCC Association of Advertisers early this year. All its members, which include Emirates Airline, Unilever, and McDonalds, spend in excess of US$1 million a year on advertising in the Gulf.

But during an at times heated interview with former BBC journalist Tim Sebastian at the Gulf Marketing Forum held in Dubai last week, Choueiri claimed that he was only “powerful” because of the media organisations he represented.

He said: “My group represents eight TV stations out of 160, it’s not a monopoly. I am not the owner of any station. What I am doing is just selling what the media owners are doing.

“In Lebanon I represent one TV station out of eight, I represent two newspapers out of 18, four radio stations out of 40, is it domination? No.“The total size of the market is approximately US$2 billion, we represent less than 20% of that.”

Asked is there was anything he would not do to secure a deal, Choueiri said: “Lying for example, over-promising. I have never told a lie in business.” At which point the capacity crowd watching the interview erupted with laughter.

“The most important thing is the confidence and trust of media owners, being honest, being straight with the media owners is in my opinion the key. I am trying to improve the market.

“I am in charge of the largest TV group in the media for 11 months. In two years time all these questions will disappear.”Sebastian asked if the media sales industry needed to be “cleaned up” to which Choueiri replied: “Certainly”.

During the half hour interview, the agency boss refused to speak about his high profile split with Qatar’s Al Jazeera network.“I decided not to renew my contract with Al Jazeera for political reasons,” he said. When pressed by Sebastian why, Choueiri replied: “I don’t want to answer. I don’t want to answer.”

On the subject of obtaining accurate and credible data on TV viewing figures, Sebastian asked: “Have people been lying about the data?” Choueiri said: “They are still lying some of them…the only solution is people metering.”

Despite suffering a recent bout of ill health, Choueiri insisted that he would remain at the helm of his empire for several years to come.

“I will retire the day the ad market exceeds US$5 billion,” he said. “At the moment its at US$2 billion. I think in three years it could be achieved, that’s my conviction.”

Choueiri finished the interview by insisting he was not the person that many in the industry have portrayed him. “I am not the godfather, I’m the grandfather,” he said.

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