BEIRUT: More than 20 employees were laid off earlier this week at the Beirut-based Arabic daily Al-Akhbar newspaper, sources at the paper told The Daily Star Friday.
The sources did not specify the reason for the layoffs, but financial and political troubles were not ruled out.
The majority of the layoffs at the newspaper were in the Middle East news department, sources said.
However, sources close to the paper said that the moves were part of a restructuring that includes the launch of Al-Akhbar’s English website to complement its popular Arabic online paper.
Al-Akhbar’s daily circulation is estimated to be between 8,000 and 16,000 copies.
The paper was launched on Aug. 14, 2006, at the conclusion of the Lebanon-Israel war and was established by veteran journalist Joseph Samaha.
On May 5, Al-Joumhouria newspaper released details from a WikiLeaks cable dated Nov. 12, 2006, concerning a meeting between then U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Jeffrey Feltman and current Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati, in which Mikati said he had provided Al-Akhbar with seed money of $150,000. During the meeting Mikati also expressed regrets about funding the paper, according to the cable.
“I’m ashamed of having had provided the newspaper with $150,000 as a preliminary budget,” Mikati is said to have told Feltman.
The cable said that Mikati refused “to get involved anymore” with Al-Akhbar because of its “blatant propaganda campaigns,” adding that he isn’t one of the newspaper owners.
Al-Akhbar, described last year as daring by the New York Times, was among the first papers to publish Lebanon-related WikiLeaks cables. It has been repeatedly criticized for its pro-March 8 editorial line and its support for Hezbollah.
The secretary general of Hezbollah, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, commented last month that Al-Akhbar was “not run by [Hezbollah], and not committed to [the party’s] policy or ideology.”