Al Jazeera doubles down on conservative channel despite staff criticism

Al Jazeera doubles down on conservative channel despite staff criticism
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Al Jazeera is moving forward with its newly launched conservative channel despite an open letter from at least 100 critical staff members, a network executive said Thursday.

“We’re going ahead with Rightly,” said Michael Weaver, senior VP of business development and growth in Al Jazeera’s digital division. “We believe in what we’re doing and the company believes in what we’re doing. It's our direction.”

Weaver said he was deeply involved with the creation of the new digital platform, which launched Thursday with its first show, “Right Now with Stephen Kent.” The interview program will address, according to an Al Jazeera announcement, “the issues animating right-of-center Americans today.”

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The Guardian reported that 100-plus staffers — including several executive producers, presenters and correspondents — signed a letter decrying the new effort and saying that news of Rightly was “met with shock, confusion and criticism.”

“Media in the US is already polarised and the introduction of ‘Rightly’ is not a solution but rather a deepening of the problem,” the staffers wrote.

Weaver would not directly address the letter or the reaction of the staffers, except to say it was indicative of the professional dedication of the journalists at Al Jazeera.

“You know I would say this about our staff,” he said. “I think we have the most talented and passionate staff in the news industry. And it’s refreshing to know they care and that they’re paying attention.”

In their letter, the staffers said their disagreement with the project had nothing to do with “left or right, or diversity of perspectives.” Instead, they were protesting something they view as an open betrayal of the Al Jazeera “network’s moral mission of uplifting marginalized voices, communities and stories.”

Weaver, conversely, specifically described Rightly as an attempt to provide a platform for what are often ignored perspectives and also to live up to an unwritten motto at Al Jazeera, namely that all sides deserve to be heard.

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“I was involved with the starting of Rightly,” Weaver explained. “And we identified this place where we think middle-of-the-road conservatives aren’t being heard. And they deserve to be a part of the conversation.”

Some Al Jazeera staff also voiced their unhappiness with Rightly on Twitter. Host and Senior Producer Sana Saeed, a seven-year veteran of the company, posted a seven-part thread critiquing the decision to launch Rightly.

“As the now publicized internal letter from over 100 employees, including me, makes clear: this decision is an affront to our values,” Saeed wrote. “I think this move by AJ is also a recognition of where the American media landscape, itself, falls: a poorly defined center that edges right in ideology & narrative while sometimes using liberal language as window dressing,” she added. “I do not respect this decision.”

Rightly is housed under the digital division and the show, “Right Now with Stephen Kent” is currently its only content, Weaver said. He added that the platform is using Al Jazeera’s production facilities and described the operation as small.

In addition to Kent, the only other person the network has affiliated publicly with Rightly is its editor-in-chief Scott Norvell, a former News Corp. executive and Fox News vice president. Both Norvell and Kent declined to comment on the open letter protesting their work.

Weaver said Rightly will be expanding soon but that he wouldn’t share details about the future content until “we are closer to production.”

“Rightly is an umbrella brand under the sub-brand of Al Jazeera and there will be a series of shows and then a series of other hosts, and potentially it will expand into other formats,” he said. “It’s being built organically. The idea is to get this first one out the door and make first ventures into this market and put this point of view out there. Actually, it’s not even about putting the point of view out, it's about providing the platform.”