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Haim Saban in Talks to Buy al Jazeera Stake?

Egyptian paper breaks news, but we’re skeptical

Allison Hoffman
October 08, 2009
Saban at a Lakers game.(Vince Bucci/Getty Images)
Saban at a Lakers game.(Vince Bucci/Getty Images)

The Israeli news site Ynet reported this morning that Israel-raised billionaire media mogul Haim Saban—whose investment group owns Univision—is negotiating to buy a 50 percent stake in the Al Jazeera television network from the emir of Qatar. The Ynet item cited a story from an Egyptian news site, Al Mesryoon, which apparently claims that Saban is conducting negotiations through an Egyptian businessman, and, moreover, that this is the second time Saban has made an offer. It also doesn’t really provide any evidence for the claim.

It’s an interesting idea—a Jewish half-ownership in the Arabic news network. Saban’s spokeswoman declined to comment one way or the other. But we’re a bit skeptical: If a huge media deal were in the offing, what are the odds that the story would be broken not by any of the media reporters who cover Saban and the TV business—either here and in the Emirates—but instead by an Egyptian site we’ve never heard of? (And one which, if our Google Translator steers us right, only launched last year, and looks more the Huffington Post than Wall Street Journal.) Plus, if Al Jazeera is losing money, as the story claims, is it really likely that the Qatari emir would turn to an Israeli billionaire for help? And why would Saban—the world’s 261st-richest person, according to Forbes, but also, as the single largest donor to the Democratic Party, an extremely politically astute individual—want to invite the kinds of headaches that would be involved in taking on this particularly thorny, supposedly cash-strapped overseas enterprise? After all, if he wants another television channel he could just, like, buy out Al Gore over at Current or something.

Allison Hoffman is the executive editor of CNN Politics.

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