The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has called on Al-Jazeera to explain the circumstances that led to the resignation of five women journalists on 25th May amidst reports that they left following harassment and complaints over their dress.
The IFJ says that the incident has raised new concerns over the lack of free association in Qatar and the right of Al-Jazeera to organize a union to represent their interests and help resolve conflicts.
Five well known and distinguished news presenters, Jumana Namur, Lina Zahreddin, Lona al-Shibel, Julnar Mussa and Nofar Afli are reported to have left Al-Jazeera following repeated ‘harassment caused by remarks and criticism' for not wearing sufficiently conservative clothes. The resignations follow a complaint filed by eight women presenters in January against a channel manager who issued public criticism about ‘clothes and modesty'.
"When the working environment becomes so hostile that women journalists have to leave, it raises enormous concerns about the level of discrimination against women in the newsroom," said Aidan White IFJ General Secretary. "Al-Jazeera must come clean about the circumstances here and restore confidence that all the channel's claims about ethical conduct are not just window dressing."
According to reports Al-Jazeera's internal complaints committee rejected the complaint because it was submitted as a collective complaint. It rejected accusations of harassment but it also recommended the preparation of guidelines over appearance to avoid future disputes.
"If the journalists had been able to exercise their rights to express their complaints through an independent union that can defend staff interests then this confrontation could have been avoided," said White. "Al Jazeera has ignored offers from the IFJ to help establish a mechanism that would give employees a collective voice in line with international standards of industrial relations that are widely recognized in the global media industry."
The IFJ says unions play a crucial role in resolving internal conflicts and benefit both staff and media. However, Qatar where Al-Jazeera is based refuses to allow journalists the right to organize a union, a right guaranteed by international human rights treaties. The IFJ has developed policies to counter harassment and bullying in newsrooms.
"Journalists' unions have a role to play in supporting their members in case of harassment. Lodging a written complaint, pursuing independent investigation and having the right to be represented by a union official are actions that must be followed when dealing with harassment," said Mounia Belafia, IFJ Gender Council vice-chair.
For more information contact the IFJ at +32 2 235 22 07
The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 125 countries worldwide