Beirut-based Saudi blogger and journalist Hassan Al-Mustafa was the first to break Aljazeera’s latest upheaval on twitter and continued reporting it beating most traditional outlets to the news at least by 24 hours.
This time around, the controversy comes from the heart of Aljazeera as 5 of its top female anchors (8 in other accounts) are said to have resigned to protest internal issues they are facing. Al-Mustapha reports also that he talked to the channel’s veteran Cairo correspondent Hussein Abdelghani who refused to comment on the news reported online when reached by Al-Mustafa. There were even news of resignations of correspondents in Germany and Yemen.
Although, Aljazeera would not comment when approached by Al-Mustafa, his sources within the channel spoke of a laundry list of grievances. At first, he reported that they the anchors were infuriated by new policies related to their choice of clothing and make up. However, later on, Al-Mustafa’s other sources elaborated by stating that the anchors were also protesting managerial practices, and “the imposition of one political and ideological view” in the newsroom was the main issue. The name of former Alarabiya staffer Ayman Jaballah (Gaballah in his native Egypt) was also mentioned, in a thinly veiled reference to what “ideological” views are being imposed as he is a known Islamist.
At this stage, it is still hard to to know the full story as the anchors themselves still refuse to comment publicly on the matter, and it is even harder to establish fact from bias. Aljazeera’s 15-year legacy has been one of innovation and major controversy within Arab circles. So it is not farfetched to imagine how many people will jump on the band wagon to denigrate Aljazeera and settle old scores with it.
Whatever the reasons, in a twist of irony for a channel with the slogan “the opinion and the other opinion”, according to Al-Mustafa, Aljazeera would not disclose the reasons for the anchors’ departure after it conducted an internal inquiry at the request of the angry anchors. we know however that the said inquiry’s final report was leaked and is in the possession of another blogger whose identity I am not at liberty of disclosing until getting his approval.
Within traditional media London based Alhayat reported that the anchors in question are: Julnar Moussa, Jumana Nammour, Lona Ashibl, Lina Zahreddine, Nawfar Ali. In the same piece Alhayat added that Aljazeera’s stalwart Algerian Khadija Ben Guenna who made news for choosing to wear a hijab is amongst the protestors as well as Iman Bannoura and Laila Ashaikhali. Initially, there were 8 anchors who filed a complaint back in January against an unnamed official (Ayman Jaballah) triggering a process that ended last Tuesday with the resignations:
The appearance and attire of Aljazeera’s anchors on air is the networks ‘prerogative’, and that it ‘retains the right to establish standards and norms regulating [anchors] attire in conformity with the channel’s spirit, principles and the image it wants to project.
The more sympathetic piece on Al-Quds Alarabi, run by frequent Aljazeera commentator Abdelbari Atwan added in its account taken from an AFP dispatch from Saturday May 30 (the first cross-over report over from Arabic) that:
The resignation is the result of the accumulation of behaviors over five or six years and unprofessional policies not based on employees’ experience and qualifications, but according some [unnamed] officials’ moods.
In the same piece, Alhayat sheds further light on the anchors’ motives speaking outright of “harassment” by Ayman Jaballah as a stated reason for the female staffers’ complaint, but he is ultimately exhonorated from any wrongdoing, and the anchors are mildly rebuked for choosing an inappropriate form to voice their concerns:
..his [Ayman Jaballah] actions were well within his area of responsibility, he did not make any direct or indirect statements undermining the anchors’ reputation, his remarks were impersonal and only related to overall attire and on air appearance..
Before crying foul, and speaking of rampant sexism, it is important to know that Alhayat is not exactly the most neutral of sources when it comes to Aljazeera as it is owned by a member of the House of Saud and espouses an opposing ideological line from Aljazeera often pitting the two against each other.
Over social media, the first reactions of Arab users were mostly made of surprise:
The most pressing question is directed to Aljazeera’s General Manager Wadhah Khanfar: why are you allowing this story to fester without addressing it in a transparent and open manner?
Short of clear answers from both sides of the story, we might be seeing, what was once by all accounts, a progressive institution replicate the very same ills it made a name denouncing about Arab regimes.
Will Aljazeera be paralyzed by this scandal? certainly not, as long as the Emir of Qatar sees it as a useful foreign policy tool. Or, more realistically, as long as Emir Hamad is in charge and is flush with petrodollars, he can find someone else to run the leading Arab media empire he launched.
In most likelihood, Aljazeera will be his most significant legacy to the Arab World.