The Interview: Joel Hyatt on Sale of Current TV

Monday, Jan 14, 2013  |  Updated 9:20 PM PDT
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In his first interview since the controversial sale of Current TV was announced, Joel Hyatt talks to NBC Bay Area's Raj Mathai.

In his first interview since the controversial sale of Current TV was announced, Joel Hyatt talks to NBC Bay Area's Raj Mathai.

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There's a good chance you've never seen or heard of Joel Hyatt.  Until now.

The unassuming multi-millionaire has pulled off a deal, along with his business partner, former Vice President Al Gore, that has shocked the media world.


Gone is San Francisco-based Current TV, a ground-breaking network that never really got off the ground. But Hyatt and Gore soared, selling Current TV for a reported $500 million to Al Jazeera, which will most likely keep a prescence in San Francisco. A TV Network that's financed by the oil rich country of Qatar.

“We studied very hard around the world to make sure we’d be comfortable with it,"  Hyatt said. "And you know Al Jazeera is carried on Israel’s satellite system, and if the Israeli public is comfortable with learning what can be learned from Al Jazeera then I think the American public is going to be able to as well.”

In his first interview since the controversial deal was announced, Hyatt is proud, reflective and a little agitated.

Here is a Q&A with Raj Mathai and Hyatt:

Hyatt: “We studied very hard around the world to make sure we’d be comfortable with it. And you know Al Jazeera is carried on Israel’s satellite system, and if the Israeli public is comfortable with learning what can be learned from Al Jazeera then I think the American public is going to be able to as well.”

Hyatt: "While some of the press in being negative I would say is highly hypocritical which has basically been Fox News and the Wall Street Journal both of which are owned by Newscorp, and Newscorp second largest owner is the Saudi Royal Family. So this idea that they’re criticizing what Al Gore and I would do business is really quite remarkable when they don’t even disclose that their company is owned by significant part by Arabs.”

Mathai: “Is it ironic for you or disingenuous as your critics would say for  you and your friend and partner Al Gore to sell to a company a broadcast network that is funded basically by oil?"

Hyatt: "Not at all. Look, again, I get that, this sort of easy shot."

Mathai: "But do you see where people are coming from?"

Hyatt: "Of course, but here’s what I know. Both Al and I…more Al, have had extensive conversations with Al Jazeera about the issue of climate change, and we believe Al Jazeera is going to be a very good job of covering it, in a way that US press does not."

Mathai: “And Joel, you’ve been around the block. You knew the public perception here in the United States about Al Jazeera is negative. Were you prepared for any criticism you guys would have taken?"

Hyatt: "I evaluated that very carefully, Raj, and at the end of the day what I believed was… it was clear those who know are very impressed with Al Jazeera and the high quality professional journalism they do. Those who don’t know have a biased based on their lack of knowledge. But think about that, ignorance breeds, biased breeds all kinds of problems in the world, and the whole point of journalism is to provide information to the people who don’t know so they become people who do, and Al and I didn’t want to base a decision  on those who don’t know and uniformed biases they may have.”

Mathai: "You had an all hands meeting with the current bosses at Current, at least a few of them. How did that go? Transitions can be difficult."

Hyatt: “I think it went very well, and frankly I think the new leadership is responsible for that. I gave a talk and turned the floor over but the fact is… the staff was really eager what the new leadership had to say, and they were very, very good.''

Mathai: "Any disappointments at Current?"

Hyatt: "Sure. You always have disappointments.  I have disappointments about things we would like to achieve but didn’t. We were never able to bring the large scale resources necessary to compete. This is real lesson to me, the media industry requires large scale resources.  We believe there’s a real problem on why it's so consolidated. It's extremely difficult to be an independent standalone cable network not able to spend the same resources. That’s a frustration, that’s a disappointment."

Mathai: "Will Al Jazeera be able to succeed?''
 
Hyatt: "Absolutely. they’re gonna be able to do the marketing we couldn’t afford to do. It will make a big difference.”
 

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