Radio reporter fired over comedy act reinstated after an arbitrator finds his jokes ‘funny’

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A reporter who was fired for his stand-up comedy has been reinstated to his job at a Philadelphia-based public radio station through an arbitrator, who agreed that his jokes were, in part, funny.

Jad Sleiman, 34, is to be fully reinstated to his position at WHYY, a Philadelphia-based NPR station, after an arbitrator determined that although material posted on social media could be interpreted as “inflammatory” , the organization “rushed to judgment.” » in his decision to fire him.

In a phone call Friday, Sleiman said he felt vindicated by the decision and was considering returning to work.

“When a news organization says you’re racist, bigoted, whatever, people believe it,” he said. “So there's been a lot of abuse from a lot of people who have never met me, who have never seen my stand-up, just seen what WHYY said about me, which doesn't It's not great.”

A message seeking comment emailed to WHYY was not immediately returned. Sleiman said he is considering further legal action over statements made by WHYY about his character.

Sleiman had worked as a reporter on The Pulse, a national health and science program, since 2018, when he was fired a year ago after executives discovered his social media account — under Jad S. or @jadslay – who published excerpts from his stand-up. comedy.

WHYY officials argued that his stand-up violated the company's code of conduct, social media guidelines and social responsibility values, finding his routine “inflammatory.” They submitted nine videos from social media as evidence. They argued that the clips had “'scalding' content and had 'sexual overtones, racial overtones, and misogynistic material,'” according to arbitration documents.

Sleiman, who has worked as a journalist in the United States and abroad since 2013 after serving in the United States Marine Corps, argued during arbitration that his stand-up routines stemmed from his experiences in as an Arab-American raised in a Muslim family and his time in military service and reporting in the Middle East.

He was frustrated that when he was first fired, people thought it was a no-brainer for telling jokes while having a day job.

“Like, 'What do you mean?' You're off-duty, you're having fun with creative expression, of course you should be fired for that,'” he said. “But I hate that this has become normal. And I want be an example of no, your employer doesn't own you.

Although arbitrator Lawrence S. Coburn admitted that some or all of the videos could be considered inflammatory — “the very strict standards of the collective bargaining agreement that I am required to apply,” he wrote – he also sometimes found them “just funny”. .”

In one, Coburn noted that some comments were “insightful, principled and serious, but not very funny.”

“More importantly, I find that the message of the clip, if one is open to receiving it, cannot be interpreted as inflammatory,” he continued.

On the other hand, Coburn said that “it is difficult to believe that an impartial person would find the clip inflammatory.”

“But the bar is very low, and among WHYY's audience of 1.3 million, there may be a few people who would find the clip inflammatory,” he added.

As part of this decision, Sleiman had to remove the nine videos cited. He was also asked to remove any “offensive post-termination” posts in which he disparaged the company for his termination. (Coburn concluded that, “in the circumstances, such 'insanity' does not prevent him from being reinstated.)

Sleiman first turned to acting in 2021, after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a chronic illness that affects the central nervous system. One of his biggest fears, he said, was losing his fine motor skills and, with it, his ability to play the guitar and piano. But stand-up was a safe place: there's a stool if he needs to sit down, a microphone stand if he can't hold the mic.

“These leaders have no right to take this from me,” he said. “Then I will fight. I want both. I'm going to be a journalist and a comedian, and I don't think there's anything wrong with that.

The arbitrator's decision was made on December 28.


Brooke Schultz is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-reported issues.

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