The End of Al Jazeera America

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Linus Park, News Editor

The Al Jazeera Media Network, a “multinational multimedia conglomerate”, headquarters located in Doha, Qatar, expanded its branch into the American media business in August 2013. Prior to the establishment of the new channel, Al Jazeera owned a preexisting and somewhat thriving news network called the Al Jazeera English (AJE) which was considered a “worthy competitor” of CNN international and BBC World News.

Despite Hillary Clinton’s acclamation of Al Jazeera in March 2011, calling the channel “real news”, satellite operators and distributors such as DirecTV and Comcast refused to “carry AJE”. According to CNN’s Brian Stelter and Tom Kludt, political reasons influenced the rejection of the channel into America, as the “Bush administration officials demonized Al Jazeera as a supporter of America’s enemies,” leading to major concerns from customers. Although AJE acquired a small amount of attention from American viewers due to the incorporation of a free live stream, the headquarters back in Doha were not satisfied with the results and continued to focus on their desires to succeed in traditional cable business.   

After a large investment deal of approximately 500 million dollars signed in January 2013, Al Jazeera bought and agreed to produce its content in the United States on a standard definition channel of Current TV, and prevented the US to access the AJE live stream in order to focus the attention on the new channel.  

So what exactly caused the downfall of a newly-funded media network?

Many of the experts viewed Al Jazeera America as a faulty network led by executives with unknown intentions from the very beginning . Although new employees and the channel itself brought enthusiasm and passion to the company, Al Shihabi, the chief executive of AJAM and the man who fostered the Al Jazeera Balkans and Al Jazeera Turk, pushed the company in the wrong direction according to some commentators.

Within the AJAM, Al Shihabi wished to uphold his reputation and worked with great pride and autonomy while strongly compelling his employees to value the “influence” of individual stories. “Our impact is reflected not in numbers necessarily, but in the end result of a chain of events triggered by our reporting,” found in one of Al Shihabi’s memos in February 2015. Yet, the news network constantly appealed to a minuscule amount of people and never had any chance to compete with major networks. While CNN and Fox News had over 3 million viewers on the night of The State of the Union, “AJAM only averaged 64,000 viewers”.  Therefore, with his lack of managing capabilities over the financial aspects of the company and poor relationships with his employees, the Head of AJE Mostefa Souag immediately replaced Shihabi with Al Anstey after two female senior executives resigned and a fired employee filed law suits against the channel for anti-semitic and sexist views.

At that point, Al Anstey, the newly appointed chief executive, and Kate O’Brian, the President of AJAM, endeavored to rally the elated workers after the eradication of Shihabi; however, a series of unfavorable events prevented the news network to ever make progress and eventually led to the announcement on January 13th, 2016 for the company to shut down by April 30th.

Such events included the dropping oil prices in the Middle East, where the oil-rich country of Qatar faced extreme losses causing the AJE director Mostefa Souag to cut the costs of the company around the world. Instead of cutting the budgets of multiple branches of Al Jazeera, the AJE decided to remove AJAM as a whole and continue on with other branches. Furthermore, poor financial management such as the lease of the AJAM headquarters in Manhattan costing at least $1 million/month led to major disappointments back in Doha.

What can other companies and future media networks take away from the failed attempt of AJAM?

First off, any organization or company requires a leader that has both the vision and full understanding of the objective of the company. Moreover, the leader needs to have absolute commitment to connect with his/her employees and show respect to individual’s opinions in their respective positions to facilitate efficient work throughout the company as a whole. In AJAM’s case, Al Shihabi possessed both experience and vision for AJAM; however, he lacked in the respect that he had for his workers and did not conduct his individual duty as chief executive to manage the company.

Neither did AJAM acknowledge the fact that the world continues to develop and change. The company initially had the option to develop into one of the first major streaming news channel, yet the parochial view of the news media business caused the directors of Al Jazeera to become one of last cable news channels. According to a senior Qatari source, the expert claimed that “Al Jazeera should have never launched AJAM […] Doha should have paid cable operators to carry the existing Al Jazeera English channel.”

Conversely to the AJAM, Casady Crier has rejuvenated and evolved into a website based news source. Prior to this development, the Crier had printed the newspaper both as a tradition and as the only option to spread news. However, as technology continues to develop and the world around us continues to evolve, people should not be so fixated on one aspect and one way of accomplishing certain feats. Instead, embracing the new generation of things may be of great benefit by opening up more opportunities for growth and increase the efficiency on which success is cultured.  

As the saying goes, “Out with the old, in with the new.”