Al Jazeera America news network ousts chief executive amid management defections

NEW YORK, N.Y. – The troubled Al Jazeera America network ousted its chief executive on Wednesday following a week of management defections and a lawsuit charging an employee with anti-Semitism.

The little-watched news network is replacing its CEO, Ehab Al Shihabi, with veteran news executive Al Anstey. Al Shihabi has run Al Jazeera America since it started two years ago, and Anstey has been the managing director of Al Jazeera English.

Both networks are offshoots of the Al Jazeera cable news network, run out of Qatar.

Al Shihabi sent an email to the staff welcoming Anstey and saying he would remain as chief operating officer.

Al Jazeera’s former senior vice-president of newsgathering, Marcy McGinnis, quit this week and told The New York Times that Al Shihabi managed with a culture of fear. The network’s head of human resources and its communications chief resigned last week, and a former employee sued Al Jazeera America, charging that he was fired when he complained about a former colleague’s anti-Semitic and sexist behaviour.

Al Shihabi had a news conference Monday to say that charges the network was anti-Semitic and anti-women were absurd. He called the network, which is available in half the nation’s television homes but is infrequently watched, “a huge success story.”

Al Jazeera America, or AJAM, announced the management change in a news release, and a spokeswoman said the chairman of its board of directors, Mostefa Souag, wasn’t available for comment. In a statement, Souag said Anstey has “the unique ability to undertake the strategic changes needed for the success of the channel.”

Anstey, who has worked at CBS News, Reuters and The Associated Press, said he is “committed to engaging the team and uplifting our collective ambitions, as a much needed channel for American audiences.”

Attorney Jeffrey Kimmel, representing former AJAM employee Matthew Luke, argued Wednesday that the ouster of Al Shihabi should be seen as an admission his client was wrongfully terminated.

Luke charged in his lawsuit that an ex-colleague had denigrated female employees and said that “whoever supports Israel should die a fiery death in hell.”