Al Jazeera’s Top Executive Steps Down

Al Jazeera’s top executive on Tuesday announced he’s stepping down after eight years at the helm of the Middle Eastern network.

Wadah Khanfar, who served as the network’s director general, praised Al Jazeera’s growth amid challenging circumstances.

“Al Jazeera gained the trust of its audience through consistently speaking truth to power, and channeling peoples’ aspirations for dignity and freedom,” Khanfar writes in his resignation letter. “Our audience quickly saw that Al Jazeera was of them and their world – it was not a foreign imposition nor did it seek to impose a partisan agenda. We were trusted to be objective and to be the voice of the voiceless.”It hasn’t always been easy for Al Jazeera. As Khanfar writes in his letter, former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld panned the network’s coverage of Iraq. And some Americans hold a lingering suspicion of the network. But its coverage of the Arab Spring has cemented it as a destination source for international news, giving Al Jazeera the momentum to launch in places like New York City.

“It is through dedication and conviction of our staff that we have assumed a position of leadership in our industry, Khanfar writes. “Even though we are a young organisation, in just 15 years our name is deeply associated with the very notion of news the world over. We are respected by our audience and hold the admiration of our peers.”

Al Jazeera did not immediately respond to TPM’s question on who will succeed Khanfar as the network’s top executive.

Read this full resignation letter below:

Dear Colleagues,

This month marks my eighth year at the helm of Al Jazeera. Having served as the organisations top executive since 2003, first as Managing Director and then as Director-General, I have decided to move on.

For sometime I have been discussing my desire to step down with the Chairman of the Board. He has kindly expressed understanding and hasaccepted my decision. Upon my appointment, the Chairman and I set a goal to establish Al Jazeera as global media leader and we have agreed that this target has been met and that the organization is in a healthy position.

Today our network spans 25 channels that broadcast in Arabic and English, and will soon by broadcasting news in Turkish, Kiswahili andBosnian/Croatian/Serbian. Each and everyone of you have played a role in building this network into world-class media organization founded on mutual respect and integrity. Through your hard work and persistence, often in times of great adversity, we now reach millions of viewers across the world. This includes inroads into the most competitive media market in the world, the United States of America. This was no easy feat – not long ago, then US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld unfairly attacked our coverage of Iraq while today, US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, hails our news coverage. We were not weakened by Rumsfeld’s comments nor made complacent by Clintons’. Al Jazeera is still Al Jazeera -our independent and integral coverage has not changed.

From our first Arabic news broadcast in 1996 our audience recognized the distinctive and courageous editorial agenda that was marked by our promise of independence and our motto of “the opinion and the other opinion”.

When we launched in 1996 “media independence” was a contradiction in terms. State media was prevalent and was blatantly used for propaganda and misinformation. Within such an environment the public probably doubted that Al Jazeera would fulfill its promise of independent journalism. We managed to pleasantly surprise them by exceeding all expectations.

Authoritarian regimes were terrified at the birth of this new institution and they quickly went on the offensive. From trying to discredit our reportage and staff through disinformation to lodging official protests with the Qatari government. When this did not stop our reporting, they started harassing our correspondents, detaining our staff and closing our offices. The only way they could stop us was by jamming our satellite signal. Yet we remained steadfast in our editorial policy – in fact, each attempt to silence us further emboldened us and increased our resolve.

Al Jazeera gained the trust of its audience through consistently speaking truth to power, and channeling peoples’ aspirations for dignity andfreedom. Our audience quickly saw that Al Jazeera was of them and their world – it was not a foreign imposition nor did it seek to impose a partisan agenda. We were trusted to be objective and to be the voice of the voiceless.

It is through dedication and conviction of our staff that we have assumed a position of leadership in our industry. Even though we are a young organisation, in just 15 years our name is deeply associated with the very notion of news the world over. We are respected by our audience and hold the admiration of our peers.

Prior to assuming my role leading Al Jazeera, I served the channel as a correspondent in Africa, Afghanistan and Iraq. It was during this time that I realized the importance of a free press with the human being at the core of its agenda. Whether it is the impact of decisions made in a country’sSituation Room or a corporate boardroom, being in the field engrains in one the responsibility to tell the story from the perspective of those affected the most. It is this culture that I have endeavored to build and maintain over the years – an independent newsroom that respects its audience, understands their collective consciousness and reports for and to them with integrity.

It is this newsroom, our correspondents, producers, presenters, cameraman, editors and technicians who provided the world with integral and fearless coverage of the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Gaza, Somalia and elsewhere. This newsroom that showed the world the first images of the Asian Tsunami and of the famine in Niger. In 2011 the eyes of the world watched the aspirations of millions unfold as our newsrooms broadcast, tweeted and published the events unfolding in the Liberation Squares from Sidi Bouzid to Jissr Al-Shughur. The coverage of these revolutions is ongoing, and we continue to report the fight of the youth to achieve dignity and freedom from tyranny and dictatorship.

Contrary to the “common sense” imparted by the regimes political elite, the Arab public are not naïve demagogues or irrational believers. They are intelligent, politically astute and have a level of empathy that the political elite lack. Our channel lives and dies by this audience and they will not forgive us if we deviate from the mission that we have lived for the past 15 years. This is perhaps the best guarantee that Al Jazeera will maintain its stellar record and lives up to its code of conduct. It is the mission for which Tariq Ayoub, Rasheed Wali and Ali Jaber gave their lives for, the mission which Tayseer Alouni and Sami Al Hajj spent years illegally detained and for which many of you were harassed. Between our audiences expectation and your vigilance, I am confident that Al Jazeera will continue to report with integrity and courage.

I have been fortunate over the past eight years for having worked with successive Boards of Directors, each distinguished and committed to Al Jazeera. I am personally indebted to the Chairman of the Board, Sheikh Hamad Bin Thamer Al Thani, whose expertise and vision had a most profound affect on maintaining the stability of Al Jazeera through turbulent times, while always focusing on its long-term vision of growth and excellence in journalism.

Al Jazeera would never have accomplished its mission were it not for the support and commitment by the State of Qatar. Its people andleadership have not only provided financial backing but have endured great international pressure to ensure the independence and integrity of our newsroom and staff.

I am fortunate to have had eight years working with an outstanding group of professionals. Today Al Jazeera stands as a mature organisation and I am confident that the organisation will continue to maintain its trailblazing path. It is then with this remarkable cohort of journalists, a strong organisation and exceptional backing that I leave Al Jazeera.

My most profound gratitude to all of you and to the loyal audience of Al Jazeera.

Sincerely,

Wadah Khanfar

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