20-month-old Al Jazeera America was slapped with a $15 Million lawsuit by a former employee today:
Matthew Luke, formerly the network’s director of media and archive management, filed a lawsuit in New York Supreme Court claiming wrongful termination. Among other allegations, Mr. Luke said he was fired after he complained to the company’s human resources department about his boss, Osman Mahmud, who, Mr. Luke said, told him to exclude female employees from meetings and not involve them in projects that they had previously worked on.
In the suit, Mr. Luke asserted that Mr. Mahmud mistreated female employees and exhibited anti-Semitic behavior, including expressing a desire to replace an Israeli cameraman with a Palestinian. A female senior vice president who resisted fulfilling that request was later transferred to another position, the lawsuit says. The suit further claims that Mr. Mahmud said that “whoever supports Israel should die a fiery death in hell.”
As if that were not enough drama for one day, the network also announced that two executive vice presidents - both women - were leaving the network effective in early May. It has not been confirmed that either of these resignations are related to the lawsuit, or merely just an unfortunately coincidence in timing.
I was a semi-regular viewer of Al Jazeera’s international English network while living abroad, and have found Al Jazeera America to be of a similarly high journalistic standard. Having said that, it should not be a great shock that these channels and their management strongly reflect the biases of the Al Thani clan, the ruling family of Qatar, which finances and runs them.
While this lawsuit and the resignations are problematic for Al Jazeera America, they are actually facing a much bigger problem:
When Al Jazeera bought the cable channel Current TV for $500 million to start an American cable network, it was said to be the most ambitious television project since the introduction of Fox News. Al Jazeera America opened bureaus, spent lavishly and recruited veteran TV journalists like John Seigenthaler and Ali Velshi.
But in the nearly 20 months since Al Jazeera America went on the air, it has struggled to match the ratings of its frail predecessor, Current TV.
I think there is a chance that we are going to find out just how much money the Al Thani clan is willing to lose in order to keep a place on the American cable dial.