The platform received backlash from journalists at Al Jazeera and beyond as many saw it as a step away from the network’s editorial principles.
Al Jazeera has reportedly stopped creating content for its controversial conservative digital outlet “Rightly”, less than a year into its launch, four sources confirmed to Axios on Tuesday.
Launched in February 2021, Al Jazeera English stated at the time that the platform targeted Republicans who “feel left out of conservative media”, and was led by former Fox News journalist, Scott Norvell, who also served as its editor-in-chief.
Its launch also came under the guise of “amplifying” the voices of those who “more accurately reflect the racial, cultural and generational diversity of centre-right politics in America than existing outlets”, as Norvell noted in the Al Jazeera statement.
Despite the internal rejection of the platform within the media network and wider international criticism, Rightly aired its online show “Right Now with Stephen Kent”, garnering only a few hundred views with other content occasionally attracting tens of thousands.
According to Axios, the network silently ended the show in December and those who worked on it were not provided with a detailed explenation, with one source saying that they had simply been told it was a “budgetary decision”.
Another source said that the show’s host, Stephen Kent, is also no longer affiliated with the broadcaster. Norvell on the other hand, will remain with Al Jazeera for a few months but is expected to eventually leave the channel.
Meanwhile, Brad Polumbo, a policy correspondent at the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE), who worked for Rightly, confirmed that Al Jazeera ended the show.
“I had a great experience there,” he told Axios.
“It’s disappointing that it was cut short but we’ll still have that work we did as part of our portfolio and to be proud of going forward,” added Polumbo.
Despite the claims, Michael Weaver, senior vice president of business development and growth at Al Jazeera Media Network, said that the platform is still under evaluation.
“As far as Rightly [is concerned], we’re still evaluating the brand itself. We’re constantly evaluating everything we put on the air,” said Weaver, as quoted by the American news outlet.
Doha News reached out to Al Jazeera for a comment on the matter and has yet to receive a response from their end.
“The basic premise behind ‘Rightly’ was problematic from the beginning,” Dr. Mohamad Elmasry, Associate Professor in the Media and Cultural Studies Programme at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies, told Doha News.
“It didn’t make sense, neither from the perspective of journalistic professionalism, nor from the standpoint of the basic values which Al Jazeera has tried to identify with, to launch a right-wing propaganda outlet,” he added.
Dr. Elmasry also believed that Rightly was one such attempt by Al Jazeera to tap into the US market.
“Any success that ‘Rightly’ would have enjoyed would have directly undermined Al Jazeera’s brand and strategic objectives. In the long run, the network will see the platform’s failure as a good thing, especially if it tries to learn from the mistake,” noted the media expert.
Attracting an American audience
Despite being based in Qatar, Al Jazeera branched out its content over the past years to provide a closer look into US affairs.
The Doha-based network succeeded at doing so through its most prominent digital strand, AJ+, which is headquartered in Washington DC, with offices in several other countries, gaining a significant audience with its groundbreaking coverage on social justice issues and US politics.
Even before the emergence of AJ+ in 2014, the channel attempted to enter the US media market, primarily through Al Jazeera America between 2013 and 2016—when it was shut down as it was not “sustainable” amid “economic challenges in the US media marketplace” at the time.
The Qatari network had bought former US vice president Al Gore’s “Current TV” for $500 million, in bid to get instant access to American viewers through its cable and satellite operators, but the channel barely succeeded.
In spite of its established presence in the US, the Department of Justice (DOJ) demanded in September, 2020, that AJ+ register as a “foreign agent”, citing Al Jazeera’s ownership by the Qatari government.
“Despite assertions of editorial independence and freedom of expression, Al Jazeera Media Network and its affiliates are controlled and funded by the Government of Qatar,” the DOJ said in a letter signed by Jay I. Bratt, the chief of the Justice Department’s counter-intelligence division.
Al Jazeera refuted those claims, maintaining that it is independent and should not have to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).
The network also found that the DOJ’s letter over its registration as a foreign agent came right after the UAE presented Washington with preconditions before the announcement of the Abraham Accords signing.
“Hobbling Al Jazeera was one of the top conditions of the UAE’s blockade against Qatar and the Justice Department just gave the UAE what it wanted,” said Al Jazeera at the time.
However, the UAE’s ambassador to the US, Yousef Al-Otaiba, denied the allegations to the New York Times, at a time when the rift between Abu Dhabi and Doha was still taking place.
It is noteworthy that the DOJ’s letter was not the first, as three previous letters were sent by Republicans as of 2018 in attempts to force Al Jazeera to register under the FARA, a move that would undermine its reporting in the US.
Similarly in July, 2021, a group of Republican Senators questioned the delay in the DOJ’s decision to register Al Jazeera’s strands, including Rightly, under the FARA.