The Qatari media company has shelved its controversial right-wing show in December, less than a year after it was launched.
Al Jazeera Media Network has stopped producing content for Rightly, the right-wing, interview-based platform that aired on YouTube, less than a year after it debuted to controversy and pushback from the media network’s employees.
Al Jazeera did not immediately respond to a TRT World request for comment on the move.
Stephen Kent, a libertarian commentator who hosted the channel, told TRT World the network informed him of Rightly’s end in “early December.”
It remains unclear if Rightly will continue without Kent. Axios was the first to report the development.
Scott Norvell, a former Fox News bureau chief and head of NewsCore, a “digital innovation initiative within the Office of the Chairman at News Corporation,” according to his biography on the Huffington Post, served as the executive producer.
Norvell is still a part of the network, but is expected to step down in coming months, Axios reported.
Michael Weaver, the network’s senior vice president of business development and growth, told Axios: "As far as Rightly, we're still evaluating the brand itself. We're constantly evaluating everything we put on the air."
‘Very bad timing’
Rightly launched in February 2021. It was Jazeera’s first programme with an explicit ideological slant, focusing on the centre-right in the US.
It also debuted the month following the January 6 Capitol riot, where supporters of right-wing former President Donald Trump attacked Congress as it certified President Joe Biden’s electoral victory.
Al Jazeera is known for airing the “voice of the voiceless,” per its “Our Values” section, and its reporting from the Middle East. The move to air a right-wing focused platform, devoid of reporting, confused many.
NPR media reporter David Folkenflick said he was “confounded” when it launched: “I'm not sure what it is that their value added will be, which is not to say it couldn't be wonderful.”
But its launch caused an uproar inside Al Jazeera. Over 100 of Al Jazeera’s employees signed a letter after it launched saying Rightly would “irreparably tarnish” the network’s brand.
A former Al Jazeera employee who asked for anonymity and worked at the network when Rightly debuted told TRT World it appeared to be a “monumental” misjudgement.
“We didn’t know what Rightly was. It came on the heels of a far-right insurrection in DC. We were confused and it seemed like, at the very least, very bad timing.”
Kent told TRT the “initial pushback and outrage about the venture was very telling. Because we never heard a peep from those disgruntled activist staff again, I suspect that is because the content was in fact not objectionable.”
Rightly was launched after Republican lawmakers pushed for Al Jazeera to be labelled a “foreign agent” under the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA). AJ+, Al Jazeera’s successful social media content platform, was ordered to register under FARA in 2020, after a UAE lobbying effort.
Some thought the platform was an effort to push back against criticism that Al Jazeera was liberal or left-leaning. But Lawmakers continued to push for the rest of Al Jazeera to register under FARA, including Rightly.
Rightly caused controversy when it first aired, but the controversy did not create a loyal viewership.
It was initially presented as a “platform,” but Rightly never grew to be more than a YouTube programme called “Right Now” with different segments.
The video on the channel with the highest views - roughly 727,000 - was an introduction to “Cancel This!” a segment that challenged so-called “cancel culture,”when someone is publicly silenced and shunned for their views.
The channel posted about 170 videos during its lifetime. The overwhelming majority have less than 10,000 views. Ninety-one of the videos have less than a thousand views as of January 18, when TRT World reviewed the channel.
In a final video posted on December 17, Kent lauded Rightly’s “22,000 subs in 10 months 55 guest interviews and a truly wide range of opinion across the American right” that were “covered every single week. This has been an incredible year.”
The video received slightly over 600 views at the time of writing.
TRT World reached out to figures in the US right-wing to determine why the channel failed to catch on, but none responded to requests for comment.
However, observers note the Republican party has increasingly radicalised in recent years, however, which may have made a centrist view unpalatable.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit that tracks extremism, said shortly after the January 6 riot that “the rejection of traditional politics and democracy itself has moved deep into the pro-Trump movement.”
A Pew Research poll from October 2021 showed two-thirds of Republicans want Trump to maintain a major political role.
When presented with Rightly’s viewership numbers, the former Al Jazeera employee told TRT World Rightly was “a waste.”
The former employee said people inside the network were genuinely distraught over Rightly’s launch, “and for what?” they asked. “The channel won’t be remembered.”
For Kent, it was a positive experience. He said the Rightly team “had a great time and I'd do it again in a heartbeat. Sad to see it conclude.”