Share story

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Al-Jazeera, the Qatar-based broadcaster, said Sunday it is slashing about 500 jobs a little more than two months after announcing the closure of its U.S. offshoot.

The cutbacks come as 2022 World Cup host Qatar refocuses its spending priorities amid a steep drop in prices for oil and gas, the backbone of the OPEC nation’s economy.

The Al-Jazeera Media Network described the cuts as part of a “workforce optimization initiative” tied to an evolving media landscape.

They will enable Al-Jazeera to “maintain a leading position and continue our recognized commitment to high quality, independent and hard-hitting journalism around the world,” acting Director General Mostefa Souag said in a statement.

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

The network did not make officials available for comment, but confirmed it currently employs about 4,500 people. Most of those losing their jobs are based in Qatar.

Al-Jazeera began as an Arabic-language news channel in 1996 with backing from Qatar’s then-emir, Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani. It now has multiple channels, including an international English-language service, and boasts more than 70 bureaus worldwide.

It struggled to crack into the U.S. market, however. It announced in January it was shutting down its Al Jazeera America cable news network, launched in October 2013, after struggling to attract viewers and convince cable and satellite companies to carry it.

Like other major energy producers, Qatar is under pressure from a steep slide in oil prices that has pushed crude to less than $40 a barrel from more than $100 in the summer of 2014. Several prominent Qatari employers have cut jobs in recent months, and authorities in January hiked subsidized gasoline prices by at least 30 percent.

Even with cutbacks in government spending, Qatar expects to run a budget deficit of more than $12 billion this year.

___

Follow Adam Schreck on Twitter at www.twitter.com/adamschreck