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Al-Jazeera Will Shut Down Its American Network In April

Visitors wait in the lobby of Al-Jazeera America after the network's first broadcast on Aug. 20, 2013, in New York. The network will shut down in April.
Bebeto Matthews
Visitors wait in the lobby of Al-Jazeera America after the network's first broadcast on Aug. 20, 2013, in New York. The network will shut down in April.

Al-Jazeera told its staff on Wednesday that it was shutting down its American network in April.

Financed by the ruling family of Qatar, Al-Jazeera America was launched in the summer of 2013 promising thoughtful, serious news coverage.

Here's how John Seigenthaler, a former news anchor for NBC and MSNBC, explained the network to NPR's David Folkenflik at the time: "They have told me that they're not interested in the ratings, that they're interested in doing news and they believe there's an audience out there that will follow."

But almost as soon as it launched, Al-Jazeera America was plagued by problems. The network never quite connected with American audiences, and internal tensions spilled onto the press.

In a memo to staff today, Al-Jazeera America Chief Executive Al Anstey said Al-Jazeera was closing shop in the United States because its business model was unsustainable.

"Since its launch in 2013, the work done by the team at Al Jazeera America has been recognized with nearly every major award an American news organization can receive," Anstey said. "We have increasingly set ourselves apart from all the rest, and the achievements of the past two-and-a-half years should be a source of immense pride for everyone."

Back in the spring of 2015, David checked up on Al-Jazeera. At the time, it was an organization very much in crisis: Its ratings were meager and it was facing a lawsuit that alleged "discrimination against women, favoritism and management by retaliation."

David reported:

"One official named Osman Mahmud rose quickly from video editor to senior vice president for operations. Colleagues say he boasts of his family connection to the head of Al-Jazeera's parent company. Late last month, a former Al-Jazeera staffer named Matthew Luke filed a lawsuit alleging that Mahmud made anti-Semitic remarks, interfered in news and programming decisions outside his areas of responsibility, cut women out of projects and routinely denigrated women in the newsroom, even those who outranked him. Luke was fired days after lodging an internal complaint. The heads of both human resources and public relations left last week, the same day Luke filed his lawsuit. On Tuesday, Al-Jazeera America scrambled to assert control of its image, denouncing outside attacks on the network and announcing new programming shifts."

Al-Jazeera said that it will continue to invest in AJ+, a digital venture that has found great success in the social sphere.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.
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