Qatar broadcaster Al Jazeera cuts 500 jobs

Qatar’s Al Jazeera Media Network has axed 500 jobs in a move aimed at cost -cutting and focusing on the state-owned broadcaster’s digital platforms.

The Doha-based network will reduce its staff by about 11 per cent, with most of the job losses coming from its workforce in Qatar, the company said in a statement. The network had about 4,500 jobs before the layoffs, a company spokesman said.

“Over the past few months, we have carefully evaluated every option available to the network in order to ensure that we are best positioned in light of the large-scale changes under way in the global media landscape,” said Mostefa Souag, acting director general.

“Based on this review, we have embarked on a workforce optimisation initiative that will allow us to evolve our business operation in order to maintain a leading position and continue our recognised commitment to high quality, independent and hard-hitting journalism around the world.”

The network announced earlier this year plans of expanding its international digital service into the US, where it is closing down its channel.

Al Jazeera America will end its cable TV operations by the end of next month after failing to win over audience and ratings in the tough United States market. Al Jazeera had bought Al Gore’s Current TV in 2013 to enter the US.

Al Jazeera, which was started off in 1996 by Qatar’s then-emir, Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, currently has more than 70 offices worldwide and several channels. Its Arabic-language channel garnered popularity and controversy in the onset of the Arab Spring owing to its coverage of the uprisings, particularly in Egypt.

Al Jazeera competes with the Saudi-owned Al Arabiya satellite channel, which is part of the MBC Group of companies.

The cost cuts at Al Jazeera could be a reflection of the pressure on Qatari state-owned entities to reduce spending as the Arabian Gulf state suffers from lower energy income. Qatar has undertaken some reforms including increasing petrol prices to cope with the era of low oil.

Al Jazeera’s focus on the digital space is part of a growing global trend where channels worldwide are switching to digital platforms as online advertising spending gains market share from more traditional forms of media.

“All channels will have to be digital at some point in time but the traditional businesses for the next at least five years will continue to be the main business in the Middle East,” said Jayant Bhargava, a Dubai-based partner at Strategy & “You will see the channels in the GCC grow a little faster because of internet adoption and the penetration is higher.

Digital spending in the Middle East and North Africa region is forecast at $1 billion and will grow at annual rate of 19 per cent over the next five years, he added.

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