Three years after its launch, the American branch of Al Jazeera announced it will shut down by 30 April because of economic reasons. Backed by the oil-and-gas-rich government of Qatar, the news channel suffers from the lowering of the energy prices and the internal controversies that tarnished its reputation in recent months.
“The economic landscape of the media environment has driven its strategic decision to wind down its operations and conclude its service,”
wrote Al Anstey, Al Jazeera America’s chief executive, on Wednesday.
Launched in great fanfare in 2013, Al Jazeera invested around $2 billion into its American branch and hired more than 800 journalists in 12 offices around the US.
The move follows internal announcements from its Doha headquarters in recent months that there would be significant cuts in the budget. In September already, rumours spread that Al Jazeera would cut hundreds of jobs worldwide to make savings. However, Al Jazeera America America was expected to be protected from the cuts as it recently purchased the former US vice-president Al Gore’s Current TV station for nearly $500 million.
Problematic for the channel was Al Jazeera America’s low viewership, which counted between 20.000 and 40.000 viewers in prime time. As a comparison, Fox News averaged 1.95 million viewers at the end of 2015.
Part of the unpopularity of the news channel resides in the perception of its Anti-American bias. The former head of the American documentary unit, Shannon High-Bassalik sued Al Jazeera, claiming it was biased against non-Arabs and women in stories that it produced and in how it treats employees.
Internal controversies caused embarrassments at Al Jazeera America in recent months. Last year, following revelations of a lawsuit against the company by the head of the documentary unit, CEO Ehab Al Shihabi and several top executives were replaced. Then, the channel’s general counsel, Ehab Al Shihabi, was fired for practicing law without a license.