Al-Jazeera English MD says channel suffers from “bullying culture”

MUMBAI: Al-Jazeera English managing director Tony Burman has said that he believes that the TV news channel suffers from a “bullying, abrupt, top-down culture” that frequently "smothers open debate and discussion.”

As reported by, Burman in an email told to all staff and contributors working for the network that the channel needed to create a more “positive and reaffirming” working culture and urged staff to join him in his wide-ranging "AJE Renewal Project 2008-2011."

"After four months in this role at AJE - and many more months watching the channel and reading its website - I certainly have come to some personal conclusions … I have come to believe that we need to create a working 'culture' within AJE that is far more positive and reaffirming than many of our colleagues think it is today," Burman wrote in the email memo.

"For a network that claims to give 'voice to the voiceless' and 'let the world report on itself', we need to 'live the brand' a big [sic] better internally. It was evident in the staff consultation about 'training' that many of you feel there is often a bullying, abrupt, top-down 'culture' within AJE that - in your view - frequently smothers open debate and discussion. This must change,” Burman added.

Burman's admission comes barely 48 hours after a London employment tribunal finished hearing evidence in a claim of religious, sexual and race discrimination made against the channel by its former head of planning, Jo Burgin.

During the tribunal, Burgin claimed that Burman's predecessor, Nigel Parsons, was guilty of "inefficient, inconsistent and malicious management" during his time as managing director of the channel.

In his email to staff, Burman claimed he wanted to introduce a "sweeping new initiative to help move al-Jazeera English to the next level".

He also detailed both the wide-ranging series of changes he believed the channel needed to make and the introduction of a series of working groups to looking into these issues, which included refocusing editorial, targeting a younger audience, taking the "digital leap", and a comprehensive strategy of staff development.

A statement from Al-Jazeera English sent to said the note was an outline of the evolution of the channel.

"With the complexities of launching the channel in 2006, many of the younger staff felt their contributions were not fully embraced by some of AJE's original managers who had to deal with many pressures," said the statement.

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