Al Jazeera staff say rightwing platform will ‘irreparably tarnish’ brand

Open letter says launch of online outlet Rightly is an affront to the network’s journalistic vision

More than 100 staff at the Qatar-funded media organisation Al Jazeera have signed an open letter to management objecting to the launch of a rightwing digital platform that they say betrays its journalism and will “irreparably tarnish the network’s brand and work”.

The internal letter, seen by the Guardian and sent to senior leaders of the media network, said the launch of Rightly on Thursday was “an affront to the ethical, journalistic and editorial vision and guidelines of Al Jazeera”.

The memo said the new conservative platform, which many staff learned about through media reporting, was “met with shock, confusion and criticism”, and came at a time of budget cuts and layoffs that had left women of colour in particular doing more work without extra compensation.

“Media in the US is already polarised and the introduction of ‘Rightly’ is not a solution but rather a deepening of the problem,” the letter said. “Those of us who work in the United States already face tremendous challenges, and our jobs will only be made more difficult now that we will be associated with promoting a political ideology.”

It added: “This isn’t about politics, left or right, or diversity of perspectives … This is about journalism and continuing the network’s moral mission of uplifting marginalised voices, communities and stories. ‘Rightly’ is a betrayal of that mission.”

Signatories to the letter include several executive producers, presenters and correspondents, while about 20 have signed on as anonymous out of concern for their jobs, sources inside the media organisation said. An updated version of the memo would be sent later with more signatures, a staffer in Washington said.

Al Jazeera is marketing Rightly as a way to reach “audiences currently underrepresented in today’s media environment” and a showcase of the “racial, cultural and generational diversity of centre-right politics”.

The platform posted its first content on Thursday, an episode of an “opinion-led interview programme” called Right Now, whose host, Stephen Kent, said the conservative movement in the US found itself at a crossroads “between facts and feelings, empiricism or rationalism, owning the libs or owning our actions”. He cast the programme as an effort to build a new conservative movement and Republican party.

The launch of Rightly threatens to disturb a largely dormant fault line between Al Jazeera’s decision-makers in Doha and its journalists, especially those producing work in English.

Qatar is thought to see Al Jazeera as an instrument of influence, increasingly so as its foreign policy has become more active over the past decade, but its English networks in particular have generally recruited journalists who see their work in more progressive terms.

“For so long we have worked to keep this channel and network true to its sense of mission,” the open letter said. “How does this new platform align with the network’s commitment to amplify the voices of the marginalised and hold power to account?”

The launch of Rightly would have been less surprising to those familiar with Al Jazeera’s Arabic output, which reflected a more conservative ideology, said Dr HA Hellyer, a senior fellow at the Royal United Services Institute and the Carnegie Endowment.

“Generally I’d say Al Jazeera Arabic is a rightwing channel, in the context of Arab politics, but I don’t know many channels in the Arab world that are otherwise. The distinction between such channels in the Arab world is more: are they rightwing in favour of non-state, pretty-rightwing, Islamist groups? Or are they rightwing in favour of authoritarian regimes opposed to such groups?”

Analysts have speculated that Rightly is an attempt to build bridges with the US right after a torrid four years for Qatar, which found itself at a distance from Donald Trump, whose administration was closer to Qatar’s Gulf rivals Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The staff letter called Rightly “problematic on many levels” and asked for a meeting to discuss staff concerns with the venture. “We strongly believe that it should not remain a part of the Al Jazeera Media Network,” it said.

A spokesperson for the network said: “Al Jazeera has a rich history of providing a voice to all sides and encouraging truth-based debates and reporting. We have expanded our footprint previously with AJ+ ... along with many other programs, brands and offerings that provide a diverse repertoire of ideas and perspectives. Rightly is a continuation of this rich tradition.

“Our mission is to deliver captivating content to the world which informs, inspires and entertains, through our talented, creative and spirited people ... Rightly is the next chapter.”

Contributor

Michael Safi

The GuardianTramp

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