LONDON: A number of Al Jazeera workers claim to have been sexually assaulted and bullied at their workplace, an investigation published by the BBC on Monday revealed.
The investigation exposed what staff claimed was a toxic work culture at the Qatar-based broadcaster, with former and current employees saying they had been harassed for years.
According to the report, former Al Jazeera presenter and journalist Kamahl Santamaria has been accused of inappropriate behavior by several staff members.
Santamaria spent 16 years at Al Jazeera before joining New Zealand television network TVNZ as a top broadcaster, where he lasted just 32 days before quitting.
Some of those interviewed pointed to the gap between Santamaria’s resignation from Al Jazeera and his swift departure from TVNZ, which was reportedly spurred by a wave of complaints.
In a public statement posted last week on his website, the presenter acknowledged some of the allegations, adding that some of them were “true, crucial context missing, outright lies and a rewrite of history”.
However, in response to the latest claims, Santamaria admitted and apologized for “behaviour that might have made someone feel uncomfortable”, and added that what he previously thought was “flirtatious, overly friendly , just a bit of a joke, or just within the bounds of acceptability in the mainstream newsroom culture was, in fact, not.
According to staff, the presenter made sexual remarks and flirtatious text messages to colleagues on Twitter, WhatsApp and Al Jazeera’s internal email.
He has also been accused of inappropriate touching and unwanted kissing in front of eyewitnesses on more than one occasion.
A worker said: “Then came the touching in the office. A hand on the shoulder, a weird hug, and the worst: The kiss on the cheek. On more than one occasion, I had to go to the bathroom to wipe Kamahl’s saliva from my face.
BBC investigations also revealed that a number of allegations had been made against other staff, including senior managers, but these went largely unaddressed. A total of 22 complaints were made.
Al Jazeera said it “considers its staff across the world as the backbone and foundation of the business – their safety and well-being is of the utmost importance.
“As an international organization with more than 95 nationalities, we continually strive to create a healthy and constructive working environment for all.”
The BBC reported that although Al Jazeera had been told of the complaints privately, no action had yet been taken, adding that it had also received reports of harassment in Al Jazeera’s newsroom in London.
Some workers said incidents often went unpunished due to a culture of fear within the company.
A staff member who worked as a freelancer for Al Jazeera for several years said she reported Santamaria years ago and was shocked to find no action had been taken. “I had denounced it six years ago, and nothing was done. How many people has he done this to since?
The woman did not formally file a complaint, but said that when she informed a middle manager of what had happened, he replied: “Oh, he still doesn’t do that, isn’t it not?”
Interviewees claimed that several staff had left the media organization due to the “toxic workplace culture”.
David, a former employee who revealed he quit following bullying and harassment, said: “People are angry about all kinds of things, and they don’t feel able to speak up. Al Jazeera and Qatar.”