An investigation into disgraced former Breakfast host Kamahl Santamaria by the BBC claims several new allegations of sexual harassment were made against him at his previous employer.
Current and former employees at Al Jazeera, where Santamaria previously worked, have alleged the company “fostered a toxic work culture”, where complaints of harassment, sexism, bullying and racism went unaddressed, the BBC said.
Employees at Al Jazeera alleged Santamaria’s behaviour was “brazen”, but was never reported because they saw him as a “network star”.
A young producer at Al Jazeera alleged she would have to “wipe Kamahl’s saliva from my face”, after non-consensual kissing and touching – according to the BBC report.
She said Santamaria sent inappropriate messages to her: “A professional man in a serious newsroom should not have to be told, more than once, not to message his colleague about how hot she looks or reference her ‘tits’ or invite her to cuddle even if he thinks they are ‘friends’.”
She told a colleague and a manager about the behaviour. Employees told the BBC they struggled to raise issues working in the newsroom in Doha, Qatar.
A male employee currently working for Al Jazeera alleged that Santamaria non-consensually kissed him on the mouth in the newsroom.
Santamaria allegedly kissed another co-worker on her neck. “I felt so embarrassed and mortified and really worried that people would think I was involved with him or trying to be – I was still making friends, didn’t have anyone in management that I could’ve talked to about it,” she said.
A freelancer for the company alleged Santamaria’s behaviour was “textbook grooming”. She did not raise a formal complaint for alleged unwanting hugging, sexual comments and texts.
Al Jazeera told the BBC it “considers its staff across the world the backbone and foundation of the company – their safety and wellbeing are of utmost importance”.
Santamaria last week apologised for the inappropriate behaviour that led to his sudden departure. At the time he said more accusations about harassment claims were about to surface.
In a lengthy statement published on his website, Santamaria apologised for his behaviour – saying what he believed to be “a bit of banter” and flirtatious behaviour was not appropriate.
“I want to apologise for any and all behaviour that may have made anyone feel uncomfortable at any time.
“It has been mortifying to discover that my actions have caused people to feel uncomfortable around me.
“It has never been my intention to make people feel that way, and I offer my sincerest apologies to them and anyone else affected by my behaviour.
“As a journalist, and a person, I should have done better. I should have been better.”
The BBC reported that allegations go beyond Santamaria, with at least two other men accused of harassing a former producer.
Employees told the BBC they had little confidence the allegations against Santamaria and others would lead to change at Al Jazeera, where they accused managers of looking the other way for years.
The BBC saw an email from 2016 which was sent to the news director highlighting allegations of sexual harassment, bullying, nepotism and toxic behaviour in the Doha newsroom.
At least 10 employees told the BBC the news director was aware of the accusations against Santamaria, but continued to put him on air.
The resulting controversy at TVNZ led the Head of News and Current Affairs Paul Yurisich to go on leave, and eventually resign on July 27.
Santamaria was hired by TVNZ in April to replace departing Breakfast host John Campbell, but resigned suddenly after just 31 days on air. Santamaria abruptly disappeared from New Zealand TV screens on May 19.
Santamaria was shoulder-tapped for the Breakfast role by then-head of news and current affairs Yurisich – who had worked with Santamaria for many years at Al Jazeera. The veteran broadcaster subsequently resigned as allegations emerged that a complaint had been made by a younger female TVNZ staffer of inappropriate behaviour by Santamaria.