The Levant News — The Qatari Al-Jazeera channel is expected to cut hundreds of jobs worldwide as the Qatari-owned broadcaster looks to make savings in the face of a falling oil price and a possible radical change in investment strategy, the Guardian said.
The surprise move will not only see an estimated 800 to 1,000 staff go – almost one quarter of the total workforce – but could presage the emir of Qatar reducing the state’s commitment to the news media group that was supported by his father. The news organisation has been a hugely successful way of maintaining influence in the Arab world and beyond. Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani has been Qatari ruler for the past two years since taking over from his father, Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, who funded al-Jazeera at its launch in 1996. The proposed job cuts, which could come after the end of this week’s Eid celebrations, comes amid falling oil and gas prices, and after the news organisation spent more than $600m (£390m) launching al-Jazeera America in 2013. An internal email at al-Jazeera has already been prepared which warned some staff to expect “painful cuts”.
The Guardian explained that there is a huge amount of confusion ahead of any final decision being made by the senior executive team. Broadcasters, journalists, technicians and other support staff working in both English and Arabic language channels are all expected to be told of the planned cuts over the coming days. Only al-Jazeera America, launched after the purchase of former US vice-president Al Gore’s Current TV station, is expected to be protected from the cuts.
Most of al-Jazeera’s 4,700 employees work in its Arabic language division. Insiders say Arabic language Doha-based journalists are particularly at risk as al-Jazeera’s stance of several of the Middle East’s most troubled areas of conflict could cause problems if they are forced to return home. Advertisement Launched by Amiri decree with a loan from the emir and state funded ever since, al-Jazeera has often been controversial in the region from the first televised interview with an Israeli speaking Hebrew to broadcasting video statements from al-Qaida leaders. Al-Jazeera’s reporting of the 2011 Arab spring in countries such as Egypt and Tunisia won it millions of new viewers in the region but also saw its coverage come in for increased criticism from local governments, which accused the network of supporting Islamists.
In Egypt, for example, its reporting on the Muslim Brotherhood has been sharply criticised by the current regime.
In August, three al-Jazeera journalists were sentenced to three years in prison by an Egyptian judge in a verdict which shocked both human rights groups and press freedom campaigners. Although funded by the Qatari state, the English language service, which employs 530 people, has long insisted on its editorial independence. Several well-known journalists joined the network, most notably David Frost, who died two years ago. Although most of the news organisation’s executives were locked in two-day budget meetings on Tuesday, one senior member of staff said of the job cuts: “It’s going to happen, unless there is an intervention at the highest level.” Based in Doha, the satellite service and website operates out of three major headquarters, also including London and Washington DC. Although Qatar is the richest country in the world per capita, much of its wealth is based on gas reserves which are likely to be hit by falling oil prices, the Guardian added.
Advertisement Rumours about cuts at al-Jazeera have circulated in Arab speaking news organisations for the past few days. One Egyptian newspaper report suggested, somewhat gleefully, that the job cuts were “the final nail in the coffin of al-Jazeera empire”. The job cuts could mean that the Qatari authorities are prepared to invest in other channels such as the al-Araby Al-Jadeed TV station and newspaper controlled by Azmi Bishara, a Palestinian former Israeli Knesset member now working for the emir. Although al-Jazeera America is expected to be protected from most of these cuts, it has already faced upheaval with the replacement of the US network’s chief executive in May following several senior staff departures and a lawsuit claiming wrongful employment. The network has struggled with low ratings since its launch. A spokesperson for al-Jazeera would not confirm the job cuts but said “there was likely to be something soon”.
Source: The Guardian