Accuracy in Media

al jazeera america ceo

In a memo to his staff, Al Jazeera America CEO Ehab Al-Shihabi sought to reassure them that the network was in sound financial condition and planned to be around for many years:

I want you to know that this organization is on very firm financial footing. The support is there. The investment is for the long-term. All of which means you should be thinking for the long-term.

Considering that the oil rich Qatari government owns Al Jazeera America, I don’t think the network’s financial situation has ever been in doubt.

Al-Shihabi also said that launch of the network was comparable to “build[ing] an airplane in mid-flight,”and that “we’re here for the long haul,” indicating that they will be reflecting on their achievements five to 10 years from now.

That will require a great deal of patience from Al Jazeera’s owners, since in the first six months of operations it has struggled to attract much of an audience. Ratings on some nights are even below the low-rated Current TV, which Al Jazeera bought for $500 million 14 months ago.

Al-Shihabi may think the future is bright, but the network’s inability to gain any traction in the ratings, and the lack of widespread cable television carriage, means that the Qatari government has in reality bought themselves an expensive hobby.

Here’s the memo:

—–Original Message—–

From: Ehab Alshihabi

Sent: Wednesday, March 19, 2014 11:04 PM


Subject: Reflections on the Launch of AJAM

Dear Al Jazeera America Colleagues, We are marking our seventh month of operations. I wanted to take this opportunity to thank everyone for their hard work, creativity and energy.

It’s not easy to build an airplane in mid-flight. And in one sense, that’s exactly what we’ve been doing. So let’s look back on what we have achieved. And let’s reflect on those things that we’ll remember six months from now….five years from now…..ten years from now. Whatever we become in a year or ten years, we’re determining that now.

Let’s start with our employees. We’ve attracted a tremendous team – starting with each of you. I’m really proud of the people we’ve hired. And the media industry has noticed this too. We aren’t just hiring good people because we have jobs to offer. We’re hiring good people because we have a vision to offer – a vision of a global news organization that treats news seriously. We’re filling the void left behind by the organizations that lost faith in hard news, in global events, in conflict and complex, serious issues. We’re building an organization around the coverage of serious topics. And that has helped us stand apart. I look at our organization and I see people who don’t mind standing apart from the pack. And that happens to make for excellent journalism.

We’ve established a news culture I am very proud of: focused on accuracy, diligent reporting and objectivity with a careful approach to reporting the facts…and weighing multiple views of important issues. Let’s remember the Al Jazeera values with everything we produce. Be proud of being part of one of the premier news organizations in the world. With colleagues in over 70 Al Jazeera Media Network bureaus around the globe, we have a competitive advantage that allows us to that bring important information to our audience.

Let me shift now to what I view as the most important indication of our momentum. We’re steadily building a strong distribution network. Our relationships with cable operators, advertisers, and the media industry as a whole are quality relationships. People are curious about what we’re building. They’re interested in what we’re doing, and they want to be part of it.

We have seen that with greater distribution will come the kind of viewers we expect. That’s a natural part of our growth as an organization. Other major media properties followed the same path. First came quality, then distribution, followed by recognition. And then the audience came. We’re are on track with our plan for growth.

We’re seeing American viewers engaging with global events. The conflicts in Crimea and Ukraine, Syria, Nigeria, the ongoing hostilities in the Middle East and the rising tensions around the world, have all reminded Americans how important it is to be engaged with global events. We know that the people in the U.S. want to understand the world and how events on the other side of the globe can have an impact here. We also know that our audience increasingly needs what we offer. I foresee the arrival of a golden age of global news – an age which will favor news organizations like our own.

So, my message to you is this: Be disciplined and be ready. As we build our distribution, our relationships, our culture, our team, I want everyone to be focused on being ready.

Be focused about resources. Invest wisely. Deploy your teams for maximum effect.

Break news. Tell stories. Get people talking.

Because we will back you.

I want you to know that this organization is on very firm financial footing. The support is there. The investment is for the long-term. All of which means you should be thinking for the long-term. Make sure you’re making the best use of our global network, because we have excellent content available to you. So use it! Let’s deliver the very best of this content to our viewers. In many cases through our colleagues at AJMN, we can offer stories that aren’t found elsewhere.This is a global news organization, so let’s make sure our viewers see it every day.

Finally, I want to share with you something important. We’ve only begun our work. We’ve only scratched the surface. In my meetings with each of you, I can see your commitment. I know it’s difficult. You want to see results right away, and so do I. I’m impatient, just like you. But we’re building a great news organization. Not for next week – but for the next year and the next decade and years to come.

So take that ambition and that hunger, and turn all of that energy into the kinds of things that make a great news organization. Give people what no one else is giving them: Hard-hitting, insightful and objective news. Deliver. Execute. And remember: we’re here for the long haul.

Best regards,

Ehab Al Shihabi

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