Thursday, May 7, 2015

Al Jam boils over

Crikey. The in-fighting at Al Jazeera America got worse quickly, and incoming CEO Al Anstey will need to use his background as a psychology graduate to make things better.

Launch director and "interim" CEO Ehab Al Shihabim, Jordanian by birth and a management consultant by training, has been removed from post. The organisation had hoped to build on his experience setting up Al Jazeera Balkans and Al Jazeera Turk. Ehab apparently doesn't do "editorial", but the evidence looks different. The New York Times reports on meetings where he's allegedly threaten to fire Ali Velshi, Al-Jam's most recognised presenter, a Canadian of Kenyan Indian heritage, who used to work for CNN.

On Monday, Al-Jam's newsgathering boss, Marcy McGinnis, formerly of CBS, resigned saying "I didn’t want to be there anymore because I didn’t like the culture of fear. People are afraid to lose their jobs if they cross Ehab." She followed HR executive Diana Lee and communications director Dawn Bridges, out of the door. They left as news of a $15m discrimination claim hit the papers.

Quiet-spoken Al, 49, once described as "stately", was born in London, started as a producer for CBS in the capital, flirted with reporting when GMTV and Reuters set up a joint newsgathering operation in 1993, then moved via APTN into ITN, where he ran both the Foreign News Desk and the Washington bureau. He's been with Al Jazeera English since 2005, and was the public face of the organisation as it campaigned to free Peter Greste and his colleagues from jail in Egypt.

The big question for Al - is the fighting separate from the fact that Al-Jazeera America employs around 650 staff of its own, yet finds it hard to top 30k viewers a night ? (Puts the issue of some of Auntie's struggling news shows into perspective....)

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