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Tue 5 May 2015 11:32 AM

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Al Jazeera America hits back against $15m lawsuit and string of defections

Qatar-owned TV station denies claims it permitted sexist and anti-Semitic behaviour against a former employee

Al Jazeera America hits back against $15m lawsuit and string of defections
(Getty Images)

Al Jazeera America has denied claims it permitted sexist and anti-Semitic behaviour against a former employee, as it battles a $15 million lawsuit for alleged wrongful dismissal and suffers the latest in a string of departures by senior members of staff.

The satellite TV station, headquartered in Doha, on Monday defended itself against media reports of charges filed in New York’s Supreme Court on April 28 by one of its former employees, Matthew Luke.

Luke alleges that Al Jazeera America executive Osman Mahmud made anti-Semitic, anti-American and sexist comments against colleagues and that when he complained about Mahmud’s behaviour to human resources in February, he was fired 10 days later.

In a statement issued on Monday evening, Al Jazeera America chief executive Ehab Al Shihabi said: “Al Jazeera America does not tolerate any discriminatory conduct and we take great pride in the diversity of our organisation and its leadership. 

“The recent attacks on us as being anti-Semitic, sexist and anti-American are absurd. Al Jazeera America’s values are based on the highest ethical standards and professionalism. Integrity and respect guide our conduct internally and externally.” 

The statement added: “Al Jazeera America has often been a target of critics and skeptics who made early predictions that the channel would not thrive in the United States. But it continues to prove its critics wrong and has clearly become a success story with award-winning programming and editorial content, a talented and diverse management team, and the best journalists in the business.

“In the short time since Al Jazeera America was launched in August 2013, its reporting has won many of the most prestigious awards in journalism. “

News broke yesterday that Marcy McGinnis, senior vice-president of outreach, has quit Al Jazeera America, just days after her colleagues Dawn Bridges, head of communications, and Diana Lee, head of human resources, resigned. 

The departures have come amid a major shake-up of operations and programming at the behest of Al Jazeera America’s parent company in Doha, Arabian Business reported last week.

Sources cited in an article by Variety magazine in the US claimed the channel had been replacing some of its programmes and newscast slots with the feed from Al Jazeera English, as it seeks to ramp up low ratings and advertising revenue. 

In a note to employees reportedly seen by the UK’s Financial Times newspaper, McGinnis wrote that Al Shihabi had told a company-wide meeting last week that “anyone who felt they could not support the decisions or direction set forth by him and the Al Jazeera Media Network would be welcome to leave”.

McGinnis added: “I find myself at that crossroads now and so have decided to resign.”

In the statement on Monday, Al Jazeera America president Kate O’Brian responded: “Over the past 18 months Al Jazeera America has made a number of changes to its programmes and adjustments to its initial plans as we’ve come to better understand what it takes to provide high quality journalism 24/7.

“The changes we’ve made have resulted in more focused programming and expanded field reporting. The programming changes we made were also designed to take better advantage of Al Jazeera’s extraordinary global newsgathering and reporting capabilities.

“The way we report the news to our audience and our ability to do that reporting has not been affected.” She pointed out that the station recently began broadcasting additional hours of live TV news from more locations across the world, and extended its midday news coverage by an additional hour, to give viewers increased access to daytime news.

Al Shihabi added: “As an organisation operating in a competitive business environment, we must make tough choices on where and how to spend our resources, and not everyone is going to be happy with those choices.”

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