“In 2022, there is an upper limit of what senior managers can get away with,” a current employee told the BBC, adding “at Al Jazeera, there is no upper limit.”
Claims of sexual harassment against a former Al Jazeera employee at the broadcaster’s Doha newsroom has been uncovered in a BBC investigation.
The London-based outlet conducted interviews with several current and former Al Jazeera employees and provided documentary proof of improper texts and staff complaints about Kamahl Santamaria, though according to some, he was not the only one.
When claims of his inappropriate behaviour in the newsroom began to circulate, the former coworkers of the veteran journalist at Al Jazeera started to speak out. In order to protect their careers, those who spoke to the BBC have asked to remain anonymous, opting to be disguised under different names.
Santamaria acknowledged the previously published claims in a public statement, calling some of them “true, some missing crucial context, some outright lies and a rewriting of history.”
He acknowledged and apologised for “behaviour that may have made anyone feel uncomfortable” in response to the allegations made by the BBC.
The journalist also recognised that what he had previously believed to be “flirtatious, over-friendly, ‘just a bit of banter’, or simply within the bounds of acceptable in the prevailing newsroom culture was, in fact, not.”
The BBC said it forwarded a thorough list of the 22 complaints to Al Jazeera, but the Qatar-based network chose not to address any of them specifically. Instead, it stated that “considers its staff across the world the backbone and foundation of the company – their safety and wellbeing are of utmost importance”.
“As an international organisation with over 95 nationalities, we continually strive to build a healthy and constructive work environment for all,” it added.
Doha News reached out to Al Jazeera for a comment but has yet to receive a response.
Santamaria worked at Al Jazeera for 16 years before leaving for a job at TVNZ where he spent just 32 days as top broadcaster before resigning.
Many drew attention to the discrepancy between Santamaria’s leave from Al Jazeera, which was announced by the journalist in a proud tweet, and his hasty departure from TVNZ, which was reportedly prompted by a barrage of complaints.
In 2005, Al Jazeera in Doha employed him as a presenter for the English-language station.
He advanced fast through the ranks, anchoring significant international issues including the 2020 US presidential election and flagship shows.
One victim who spoke to the BBC claimed he began giving her unwanted attention, noting he sent her a message on Twitter offering to cuddle and questioning why she had not invited him on her vacation.
The BBC report said it has proof of inappropriate emails and texts Santamaria sent to coworkers on internal Al Jazeera email, WhatsApp, and Twitter.
“Then came the touching in the office,” the victim said, according to the BBC. “A hand on the shoulder, a weird hug, and the worst: the kiss on the cheek. On more than one occasion I had to go to the bathroom to wipe Kamahl’s saliva from my face.”
She claims she spoke about Santamaria’s behaviour with at least one other coworker and a mid-level boss, both of whom confirmed to the BBC that these talks did indeed taken place.
Several present and former coworkers claim that Santamaria’s actions were witnessed on a number of occasions.
Meanwhile, a male Al Jazeera employee reported that Santamaria gave him an unwelcome kiss on the mouth in the workplace. It was supposedly observed by a news editor who is now a senior executive at the station.
Another former junior producer said that Santamaria gave her a workplace neck kiss in front of several witnesses. “I felt so embarrassed and mortified and really worried that people would think I was involved with him or trying to be – I was still making friends, didn’t have anyone in management that I could’ve talked to about it,” she said.
Another staff member who freelanced for Al Jazeera for four years said: “I had reported him six years ago, and nothing was done,”
“How many more people did he do this to since then?”
She did not formally complain, however she claimed she reported her experience to a mid-level manager who responded with: “Oh, he’s not still doing that, is he?”
At Al Jazeera, where the BBC has heard that the charges extend beyond Santamaria and the newsroom, a “reckoning” now seems to be under way.
According to a former producer and correspondent, she was harassed by at least two additional individuals besides Santamaria. She claims that one of them was her line manager and the other was a manager who would invite her over to his house when his wife wasn’t there.
A mid-level manager has also been accused of alleged harassment by a number of women and men in another department at Al Jazeera.
“He has said the most inappropriate stuff – he asks male employees when they are getting a second wife or if they’ve lost their virginity yet. He talks about sex during Ramadan and asks hijabis what colour their hair is,” an employee said.
They claimed that at least one of their colleagues had left as a result. Another employee who worked there corroborated to the BBC that he had seen this individual harassing others.
However, members of his department report that this man has now left Al Jazeera, months after charges against him first arose.
“People are angry about all sorts of things and they don’t feel they can speak out in Al Jazeera and in Qatar,” said David, a former employee who said he resigned as a result of bullying and harassment, BBC reported.
Publicly humiliated in multiple “hostile dressing down” situations, David said the colleague “belittled” him and often “heckled” senior colleagues at meetings.
David claimed that because of her “domineering” and “rude” demeanour, the whole team—even senior producers—were “terrified” of her. But because she was close to a top management, he continues, few people complained about her.
Because their work is intertwined with every aspect of their lives, everyone the BBC spoke to hesitated to speak out.