A member of the senior team at cable-news network Al Jazeera America has left the outlet, executives disclosed Monday during a press conference meant to call attention to the network’s new direction and allay concerns about a recent lawsuit filed against the company by a former employee.
Marcy McGinnis, a veteran of CBS News, originally joined Al Jazeera America in the summer of 2013 to be its senior vice president of newsgathering. In recent months, however, she has been identified as senior vice president of outreach amid speculation that her role at the network had been marginalized as Ehab Al Shihabi, chief executive of the U.S.-based network, took a greater interest in its editorial operations.
More senior executives could be set to leave Al Jazeera America, where two others — Dawn Bridges, the network’s spokeswoman, and Diana Lee, executive vice president of human resources — have already resigned,according to people familiar with the situation.
During a press conference, Al Shihabi and Kate O’Brian, the network’s president, declined to comment on the reasons for McGinnis’ departure. McGinnis “has decided to leave us. She let us know today that this was her decision,” said O’Brien. “We really don’t go into personnel issues. We’re going to leave it at that.”
Network executives also declined to discuss in detail a recent wrongful termination lawsuit recently filed by Matthew Luke, AJA’s former supervisor of media and archive management. In the lawsuit, Luke claimed that the executives at the network have exhibited “anti-American” bias, while one made anti-Semitic remarks.
“This call will not address anything” related to the lawsuit, said Al Shihabi. “Let the court decide.”
Earlier in the day, the network released a statement saying it “does not tolerate any discriminatory conduct.”
Al Jazeera America launched in 2013 with grand ambitions. Backed by the government of Qatar, the network positioned itself as a purvey of serious news, not “infotainment” found elsewhere in the cable-news sector. And Al Shihabi re-emphasized that mission Monday, saying the network was determined to produce “serious news” with a “long format” that was designed for the “global minded” and “intellectual.”
Yet Al Jazeera’s ratings are puny in comparison to its competitors, though they have risen. In the first quarter of this year, AJA averaged 35,000 viewers, up from 16,000 in the year-earlier period. AJA ranked No. 104 out of 106 ad-supported cable channels rated by Nielsen. The network recently scrapped a great deal of its programming schedule and has launched new shows.
Al Shihabi said he was less concerned with ratings than he was with the “impact” of the network’s reportage. Al Jazeera America can cover its costs, he said, though he declined to offer a projection when the network might break even. “I know what I’m doing,” he said.