Ben Ammar launches pan-Arab TV net

Mogul buys Egypt's politically independent ONTV

ROME — Franco-Tunisian media mogul Tarak Ben Ammar has acquired Egypt’s politically independent ONTV satcaster to add to his North African Nessma network, creating a massive pan-Arab TV platform and media group with a foothold in Europe.

ONTV, launched in 2009 by Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris, played a key role during Egypt’s 2011 revolution and competed with Al-Jazeera as an independent outlet, though not limited to news.

Ben Ammar’s Italian company, Prima TV, will purchase Sawiris’ interests in ONTV for an undisclosed sum.

The deal will link the potential 90 million TV audience in North Africa — where Tunisia-based Nessma is a key player — with Egypt’s 80 million viewers.

Ben Ammar said his pan-Arab media group aims to create and distribute content across film, TV and digital outlets for local, regional and international audiences. This is good news for Arab producers, especially in Egypt where he intends to mine the country’s “glittering tradition of film and TV production.”

“This will help forge a formidable, and unprecedented, bridge between Arab audiences in Europe, North Africa and Egypt at a time when the Arab world is in the midst of historic changes,” he said.

The deal, announced amid mounting tensions in Egypt between Muslim Brotherhood supporters and opponents to President Mohammed Morsi’s attempted power grab, is a clear sign that Ben Ammar is optimistic about Egypt’s longterm prospects.

“Egypt is the center of the Arab world, historically, culturally and politically, so expanding our media network there makes perfect sense,” he said. “I am committed to building a platform that is dedicated to freedom for all, and, most importantly, is built on the ideals of personal and political independence across the Arab world.”

As for catering to the Arab diaspora in Europe, Ben Ammar is in advanced negotiations to launch a Nessma France channel aimed at the country’s seven million citizens of Arab and Muslim origin.

Prima TV, which holds all Ben Ammar’s media assets, owns Italo sports network Sportitalia and film distributor Eagle Pictures, which releases the “Twilight” franchise in Italy.

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