Al Jazeera has abandoned neutrality in favour of an anti-Israeli stance in a bid to drive up ratings and discriminates against non-Arab members of staff and women, according to a multi-million dollar lawsuit filed this week.
Details of the claim against Al Jazeera America (Ajam), brought by the former head of its documentary unit, Shannon High-Bassalik, emerged on Thursday evening.
It is the latest in a series of legal actions taken against the network by former senior staff in recent weeks.
Ms High-Bassalik claims Ajam’s former chief executive, Ehab Al Shihabi, would leave meetings when women were speaking and would shout at them in front of colleagues when they complained.
He would treat such women as “simply being emotional... asking them why they 'didn't love me anymore,’” according to the lawsuit.
It claims that the network has abandoned “journalistic objectivity” in order to “advance a pro-Arabic/Middle Eastern agenda, often at the expense of Jewish people.”
In the US, Al Jazeera only manages to get around 30,000 viewers a night. “As ratings failed to live up to the expectations of management, Al Jazeera openly decided to abandon all pretense of neutrality in favor of putting the Arabic viewpoint front and center, openly demanding that programs be aired that criticized countries such as America, Israel and Egypt,” Ms High-Bassalik's lawsuit stated.
The network decided to “cast Israel as the villain,” in its coverage of the Gaza conflict, claimed Ms High-Bassalik. She accused the head of the company's investigative unit of tweeting that “Israelis are like Hitler.”
And the former documentary head said she was told that many Arabs believe that 9/11 was orchestrated by the CIA to justify waging war on the Arab world, and that the network should be guided by this belief.
Ms High-Bassalik said she was told to hire an Arabic woman as a producer despite their lack of qualifications for the job; and that performance ratings for Arabs were systematically upgraded, while non-Arabs saw their ratings go down.
She had complained to senior staff that the network was “actively advocating a discriminatory attitude towards people who were not Middle Eastern and/or Arabic.”
The experienced producer, who has worked at CNN, NBC and MSNBC, was fired in February mid-way through a three-year contract.
Ms High-Bassalik, from Connecticut, who stated that she was accused of being an ineffective leader who had problems getting on with others, is suing for back pay and unspecified damages.
Her lawsuit is the latest controversy to hit the network. Mr Al Shihabi stepped down last month, in the wake of several lawsuits and resignations in recent weeks including that of Marcy McGinnis, the network’s former senior vice president for news gathering. “I didn’t want to be there anymore because I didn’t like the culture of fear,” said Ms McGinnis. Her resignation came just days after the network’s chief of human resources, Diana Lee, and its executive vice president for communications, Dawn Bridges, resigned.
In a lawsuit brought several weeks ago, Matthew Luke, Ajam’s former director of media and archive management, claimed he had been fired after complaining about the network’s senior vice president for broadcast operations and technology, who is said to have remarked: “Whoever supports Israel should die a fiery death in hell.”
And Mohamed Fahmy, former acting bureau chief for its English channel in Egypt, who spent more than a year in prison on terrorism-related charges, filed a $100m (£53m) lawsuit against Al Jazeera in a Canadian court last month - accusing it of negligence and failing to provide security to him and his colleagues.
In a statement responding to the latest lawsuit, brought by Ms High-Bassalik, a spokesperson for Ajam dismissed the allegations as “unfounded” and said: “Al Jazeera values and respects all of its employees, and has zero tolerance of any form of discrimination.” They added: “Al Jazeera America’s new CEO Al Anstey stressed the importance of respect, transparency, and integrity in his first message to staff last month.”Reuse content