Qatar's Al Jazeera America battles operations shake-up, $15m lawsuit

Senior staff members reportedly resigned this week, as the channel reported low viewing ratings and advertising revenue
Qatar's Al Jazeera America battles operations shake-up, $15m lawsuit
(Getty Images)
By Sarah Townsend
Thu 30 Apr 2015 11:33 AM

Al Jazeera America is undergoing a major shake-up of operations and programming at the behest of its parent company in Doha, according to reports in the US.

Senior staff members Dawn Bridges, head of communications, and Diana Lee, head of human resources, reportedly resigned this week, while seven other employees have left.

Meanwhile, sources claim Al Jazeera America has been replacing some of its programmes and newscast slots with the feed from Al Jazeera English, the English-language service run by AJA’s Qatar-based parent company Al Jazeera, according to a report in Variety magazine.

It claimed AJA’s chief executive Ehab Al Shihabi has been spending an increasing amount of time at AJA’s central newsroom offices near New York’s Madison Square Garden rather than in the business operations office in Lower Manhattan, as is usual.

The satellite TV channel is under pressure from Doha to improve its financial performance. It reported low ratings and advertising revenue figures for the first quarter of this year, with an average of 35,000 viewers, up from 16,000 in the same period last year.

And the station was ranked only 104th out of 106 advertising-supported cable channels rated by Nielsen.

More senior staff are expected to leave AJA following the departures of Bridges and Lee, according to unnamed sources in Variety, while Al Shihabi has reportedly instigated changes that have diminished the roles of AJA president Kate O’Brian, David Doss, senior vice-president of current affairs, and Marcy McGinnis, senior vice-president of outreach.

Arabian Business could not immediately reach either Al Jazeera America in New York, or Al Jazeera in Doha, for comment.

However, news of the shake-up has placed AJA firmly in the media spotlight as it comes in the same week the TV channel was hit with a $15 million lawsuit from an ex-employee over allegations of unfair dismissal.

Matthew Luke filed charges in New York’s Supreme Court on April 28 claiming Al Jazeera America executive Osman Mahmud made anti-Semitic and sexist comments against colleagues.

According to reports, Luke, who was AJA’s supervisor of media and archive management since May 2013 before the news channel formally launched, alleges he complained about Mahmud’s behaviour to human resources in February but was fired 10 days later.

Mahmud has reportedly dismissed the accusations as a “pack of lies”. Luke also alleges that AJA executives demonstrated “anti-American” bias in recent months as key executives recruited for the US operation were replaced with Middle Eastern executives from Al Jazeera, which is part-funded by the Qatari government, Variety magazine said.

Earlier this month the news channel was embroiled in a separate controversy when it was accused of showing the wrong map of India in various programmes in 2013 and 2014 and was taken off air by the Indian government for “cartographic aggression”.

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