Senior executive seeks £1m from Al-Jazeera for sexual discrimination

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The Independent Online

A former senior executive of Al-Jazeera English is seeking compensation that could be more than £1m, after her dismissal by the broadcaster.

Jo Burgin, the former Head of Planning at the news channel, is claiming discrimination on the basis of sex, race, and religious grounds at an employment tribunal in central London.

Ms Burgin, a Christian who worked for Al-Jazeera English from April 2005 until April 2007, claims that four male employees with the same level of seniority and in the same department were treated more favourably than her because of her gender.

She also claims that her husband was unjustly favoured over her in the settlement of an Al-Jazeera office policy which prevents family members from working together. Steve Clark, Ms Burgin's husband, was employed by Al-Jazeera English in the role of Head of News.

Since Ms Burgin launched legal proceedings, Mr Clark has also resigned from his position within the broadcaster. He sat alongside his wife at the tribunal yesterday.

Sam Neaman, a lawyer for Al-Jazeera English, told a preliminary hearing yesterday that the compensation claimed by Ms Burgin could be "north of £1m". Burgin's lawyer, Jonathan Cohen, said that his client had, in effect, been dismissed when her contract was not renewed shortly after the channel's launch.

The departure of both Ms Burgin and Mr Clark is part of a wider exodus from al-Jazeera, which launched amid great fanfare and a cluster of star signings, including Sir David Frost and former BBC journalist Rageh Omaar, in November 2006.

Last month David Marash, an American former ABC Nightline presenter who wasAl-Jazeera English's senior anchor in Washington, also left the channel. An Al-Jazeera spokeswoman refused yesterday to confirm or deny that a further 15 staff have quit since mid-January, amid growing tensions.

Recent reports have suggested staff are uncomfortable with the apparent iniquity of salaries across the Al-Jazeera network, which includes a main, 24-hr Arabic news channel, two sports channels, a children's channel, and a documentary channel.

Funded by the emir of Qatar, Al-Jazeera launched in 1996 and soon became the benchmark for news coverage in the Middle East. It has 69 foreign news bureaux and four broadcast centres in Kuala Lumpur, Doha, London, and Washington, DC.

A decade after its launch, it launched Al-Jazeera English, a 24-hr English language news channel that came into being after an 18-month delay and following a last-minute name change of the channel fromAl-Jazeera International.

In a statement yesterday, the broadcaster said: "Al-Jazeera does not comment on specific cases. From an employee perspective, Al-Jazeera is committed to equal opportunities, employing staff from more than 40 ethnic backgrounds, both male and female. Women are represented at all levels in the company, including senior management."