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Egyptian telecom mogul Naguib Sawiris is set to shake up Europe’s television industry with a $40 million (€35 million) play for a majority stake in Euronews, Europe’s answer to CNN.
The offer, which Euronews has confirmed, would give Sawiris, a major player in Egypt’s telecommunications industry, a 53 percent stake in Euronews and a foothold in the European market. Sawiris has been trying to break into Europe for several years now. In 2012, he made an unsuccessful attempt to buy a stake in Telecom Italia.
The executive board of Euronews has approved the Sawiris bid, but the deal could face regulatory opposition. Euronews was set up in 1993 by European public broadcasters as an alternative to CNN. More than 20 European public broadcasters have equity stakes in Euronews, with France Television and Italy’s RAI being the largest shareholders. Russia’s VGTRK group and Turkish channel TNT are also major shareholders. The Sawiris deal would radically change that structure and make Euronews the first major European news network to be controlled by a mogul from the Middle East.
The Qatar-based Al Jazerra network is also active in Europe, with both its Arabic- and English-language channels available on pay TV operators across the continent. But Al Jazerra is a purely commercial enterprise, while Euronews receives public funding from the European Commission. Euronews broadcasts in multiple languages, including Arabic.
Sawiris was quick to assure that, should the deal go through, he would be “committed to carefully respecting the editorial independence and the mission of general interest of Euronews.”
Euronews CEO Michael Peters said the Sawiris deal would allow the pan-European network to invest in programming and the Euronews brand, noting that foreign investment was more likely than increased investment from current shareholders “in the light of the financial position of public channels in Europe.”
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