Deal part of strategic plan to build North African, Egyptian and European media network aimed at Arab-language audiences.

Media mogul Tarak Ben Ammar has acquired private Egyptian television channel ONTV, in a strategic move to create an independent entertainment and current affairs television network spanning North Africa, Egypt and Europe.

Cairo-based ONTV, set up by Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawaris in 2009, is regarded as one of the only politically independent channels in Egypt. 

The acquisition is Ben Ammar’s first foray into the Egyptian market and joins a number of other television assets, including a stake in Tunisian channel Nessma alongside Italian Mediaset and the Karoui brothers.

Under the deal, Ben Ammar’s Italian company Prima TV, the holding company for all of his media assets, will acquire ONTV.

Aside from Nessma, Prima TV also owns the Sportitalia TV brand and independent film distributor Eagle Pictures and the digital network on which pay-TV station Mediaset Premium broadcasts.

Ben Ammar said the acquisition would create synergies between his European and Arab media assets.

“My goal is to create a pan-Arab media group with a foothold in Europe creating and distributing content across film, TV and the digital space for local, regional and international audiences,” said the film producer and media owner. “Egypt is the centre of the Arab world, historically, culturally and politically so expanding our media network there makes perfect sense.”

He added he was also looking for similar opportunities in Algeria and Morocco.

Tying in with this move, Ben Ammar said he was also in “advanced” discussions for the launch of Nessma France in 2013, a spin-off of The Tunis-based channel, which would be aimed at the seven million people of Arab origin living in France.

The announcement of the acquisition at a news conference in Milan came as tensions remain high in Egypt over a controversial draft constitution which has led to clashes between Islamists and secular, liberal opponents, who say it does not do enough to protect female rights and religious freedom. 

Ben Ammar said ONTV would continue to be run out of its Cairo head office and that it would continue to be politically independent. 

“I come from the entertainment world. I am not a politician. I have no ties to any political party, even in my own country Tunisia,” he said. 

He noted, however, he was studying the possibility of broadening the station’s current affairs and talk show content by launching a new general entertainment channel dedicated to Egyptian audiences, using one of ONTV’s existing frequencies. 

“I am solely focused on providing audiences with the best, most relevant content possible, whether that be in current affairs, film or TV,” he said.