Paul Keller/Flickr, Photo for illustrative purposes only.
After months of rumors, Qatar-backed Al Jazeera has said it is sacking 500 employees across its network.
Most of the affected staffers are based at the broadcaster’s Doha headquarters, Al Jazeera said in a statement.
Today’s announcement means the network is cutting more than 11 percent of its 4,500-employee global workforce.
In a memo sent to staff today, acting Director General Mostefa Souag said the layoffs were part of a “workforce optimization initiative” that comes amid a changing industry.
“This announcement comes at a time when Al Jazeera must consider and respond to the large-scale changes underway in the media landscape. As you know, other leading media organizations across the world are being forced to redefine their business models as well with negative impact on their staff. Al Jazeera is no exception.”
Souag did not mention the deep budget cuts facing Al Jazeera, which is funded by the Qatar government.
In addition to the layoffs, the network is closing its venture in the US, Al Jazeera America.
Before the email was sent to staff, many Al Jazeera employees noted increased security at the Doha headquarters today, and long lines of cars could be observed waiting to get inside the building.
However, in a statement to Doha News, a spokesman for the channel said “the heightened security today as nothing to do with layoffs that have been announced. Both are not connected.”
Many Jazeera employees have been bracing for layoffs for several months, especially after the Guardian reported last fall that up to 1,000 employees would be out of jobs after the Eid holiday.
Though that timeline was pushed back, Al Jazeera did take a large step toward scaling down the size of its operations in January when it announced plans to shut down AJAM.
The network is the latest state-funded institution to cut costs by laying off staff as the Qatar government reduces spending in response to lower oil prices, which has eroded its revenues.
Hamad Medical Corp. laid off hundreds of employees in January in a move that followed widespread layoffs in the energy sector.
Funding cuts have also been seen elsewhere in Qatar’s cultural sector.
Earlier this year, the head of Katara Cultural Village said his organization’s budget was being trimmed, and reports of lower levels of funding at Qatar Museums have been trickling out for more than a year.
However, some analysts have speculated that the cuts at Al Jazeera are part of a wider political agenda by Qatar’s government and are not being driven solely by financial considerations.
The prominent network has been seen as a foreign policy tool during Qatar’s attempts to play an influential role in the region.
But many say Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani has pursued a quieter approach to diplomacy since becoming Emir.
Speaking to Reuters earlier this year, a former Qatar diplomat who declined to be named said:
“Sheikh Tamim wants Qatar to remain relevant on the world stage, but he wants to do that without squandering money or angering neighbours … he doesn’t want to be sucked into conflicts in the region. The new approach is less noisy, it’s more cautious.”
A townhall meeting was planned today to discuss layoffs, which should be announced this week.
Souag concluded his memo by thanking employees’ contributions and saying that there will be a “respectful and fair procedure” followed for those who were made redundant.