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Al Jazeera launching digital platform to provide outlet for US conservatives

Journalists express anger over Rightly, saying it deviates from network's stated mission of giving a 'voice to the voiceless'
Al Jazeera became a significant presence in the US in 2013, when it launched its left-leaning Al Jazeera America news channel and website.
Al Jazeera briefly launched an American news channel and website in 2013 but it was forced to shut down due to poor ratings (AFP)

The Al Jazeera news network is launching a new digital platform to target conservative audiences in the US, the network confirmed on Tuesday.

The new effort, called Rightly, aims to reach Republicans in the centre-right who are "currently underrepresented in today’s media environment", the network said in a statement sent to Middle East Eye.

"Al Jazeera is excited to expand its digital footprint with Rightly to provide fresh voices that are too often left out of the mainstream media a space to engage and debate the issues that matter most to them," said Michael Weaver, senior vice president of business development and growth at Al Jazeera media network's digital division.

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"Rightly will also be a platform where the full spectrum of political voices can expect to have, or find, a thoughtful debate on the future of the United States."

The project will be run by Scott Norvell, a former Fox News journalist, and the platform will launch its first interview show on Thursday.

A former employee at Heat Street, a News Corp website that was shut down in August 2017, told the Guardian that Norvell had been involved in the site's politics swinging to the right.

"Scott Norvell played a part in transitioning Heat Street from a libertarian youth-oriented site as originally envisaged to pro-Trump alt-right Breitbart clone," the former staffer said.

Rightly's first show will be hosted by Stephen Kent, a political commentator who currently hosts a podcast called Beltway Banthas, Al Jazeera said in its statement.

Kent currently has a book deal with Center Street, a conservative publishing company that has published works by far-right authors including Donald Trump Jr and Corey Lewandowski.

'Amplify racist views'

Several Al Jazeera staff voiced criticism over the announcement saying the venture has deviated from the network's stated aim of giving a voice to the voiceless.

"It's hard to reconcile how this channel fits in with all the different platforms and strands AJMN [Al Jazeera Media Network] offers," one journalist told Middle East Eye.

"This venture feels less like a journalistic effort and more like a PR stunt," they said on condition of anonymity.

Another reporter, who also requested anonymity, said the project "could amplify racist [and] toxic views" and undermine efforts that Al Jazeera was "non-partisan".

Al Jazeera has faced criticism over its coverage of the war in Syria, the unrest in Egypt following the 2013 ousting of the country's first democratically elected president, and it's reporting on the war in Yemen.

Negative news coverage of the war in Yemen reportedly increased after the start of a diplomatic dispute with Saudi Arabia in 2017, according to the journal, Arab Media & Society.

"Al Jazeera's reputation has been tarnished by accusations that it is a mouthpiece for the Qataris," another journalist said. "While it is certainly not, this announcement will raise these kinds of unnecessary questions again."

Andreas Krieg, an assistant professor at King's College London, said Qatar could be looking to "tap into conservative echo chambers who have been widely subverted by Saudi & UAE narratives".

"During the blockade, these audiences have been particularly vicious towards Doha," he said on Twitter.

Al Jazeera launched a US-based channel and website in 2013 which closed after less than three years following poor ratings. The project cost an estimated $2bn.

The network has, however, maintained a significant presence online with its successful AJ+ video and social media platform and its international news channel Al Jazeera English.

The launch of a right-wing digital platform comes at a time when existing conservative outlets are lurching further towards the right.

Fox News faces threats from new, ultra-conservative TV channels Newsmax and One America News Network.