He was Current TV’s general counsel when Al Jazeera America acquired the network, and yet Harleston remained even after the acquisition and has since helped drive the transition. In fact, his legal infrastructure has been critical to every aspect of Al Jazeera America’s growth since it launched in August 2013, including the carriage and talent negotiations, and overall legal compliance. “I am enormously proud of our company’s demonstrable commitment to ensure that the organization genuinely reflects the diversity of America,” he says.
What’s been your company’s biggest innovation this year?
Al Jazeera America launched in August 2013 with a clear mission to report the news from every conceivable perspective, and that requires recognition of the rich diversity in our workforce and our audience. I am enormously proud of our company’s demonstrable commitment to ensure that the organization genuinely reflects the diversity of America, and to speak to an audience that is as transfixed by our compelling coverage of Ferguson, MO, as it is by our breathtaking vantage point in Gaza.
What qualities do you look for when making a new hire?
When hiring, my most important criterion is a candidate’s belief in the mission, vision and values of the organization – which, at Al Jazeera America, explicitly includes a commitment to diversity. I also insist on a Business and Legal Affairs group that is itself as diverse as the company.
Name one emerging trend in cable we should all have our eye on.
The recent mergers of large cable affiliates that have been announced raise serious questions as to the preservation and viability of the truly independent cable networks, all of which have critically important voices that risk being silenced. Diversity in the marketplace is as important as diversity in the workplace, and sustaining marketplace diversity will become increasingly challenging as the number of distributors shrinks.
Who has been your strongest mentor, and why?
I have had the privilege and benefit of several extraordinary human beings who have recognized my passion and commitment to media and nurtured it at various stages – from the brilliant and creative David Sussman at Comcast-NBC, to the ingenious and remarkable David Johnson at Warner Chappell, to the incomparable and revolutionary Russell Simmons, to the passionate and inspirational Ehab Al Shihabi, CEO of Al Jazeera America – all of whom have urged me to be the sort of innovative, creative and non-traditional Business Affairs executive and General Counsel that I have worked hard to realize.