A former star BBC presenter has quit a Left-wing media company after it was forced to call in lawyers to investigate an impersonation scandal.
Katty Kay has resigned from Ozy Media following revelations that its chief operating officer Samir Rao had pretended to be a YouTube executive on a conference call during talks over a $40m (£30m) investment from Goldman Sachs.
Ms Kay, an ex BBC World news presenter who hosted Beyond 100 Days with Christian Fraser, had joined Ozy as a senior editor and executive producer in June.
Announcing her departure, Ms Kay posted on Twitter: “I have resigned from Ozy Media. I had recently joined the company after my long career at the BBC, excited to explore opportunities in the digital space.
“I support the mission to bring diverse stories and voices to the public conversation. But the allegations in the New York Times, which caught me by surprise, are serious and deeply troubling, and I had no choice but to end my relationship with the company.”
Ozy, which claims to have discovered Democratic politician and activist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez while she was still “working as a bartender in the Bronx”, has hired lawyers to investigate its own activities after reports emerged of an impersonation by one of its senior executives.
The New York Times reported that Goldman Sachs employees taking part in a conference call on February 2 had become suspicious about whether someone was pretending to be Alex Piper, the head of unscripted programming for YouTube Originals.
The person reportedly told the bankers that Ozy was a commercial success on the social media video service, but when they contacted Mr Piper and YouTube after the meeting it became clear that he had not participated.
Ozy’s chief executive Carlos Watson admitted to Goldman Sachs that Mr Rao was the voice on the call and apologised. He told the bankers and the New York Times that Mr Rao was experiencing a mental health crisis and had taken time off after the call. Mr Rao has now taken a leave of absence until the law firm’s investigation has concluded.
Mr Watson also said on Twitter that he was “heartbroken” by the report, which he dismissed as a “ridiculous hitjob”.
Meanwhile, Google, the owner of YouTube, has contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation about the incident. The Silicon Valley investor Ron Conway – an early backer of Ozy – has also reportedly given up his shares in Ozy in response to the revelations.
Ozy is a Left-leaning media company, which has attempted to capitalise on the anger felt by Generation X over social justice issues since it was forged in 2013.
It is fronted by Mr Watson, the son of black American mother and Jamaican father who had an early stint working at Goldman Sachs and McKinsey before becoming an anchor on MSNBC in 2009. The company claims Mr Watson’s show on Ozy is the fastest growing talk show in YouTube history. However, doubts have been raised over the popularity of the show and Amazon recently complained about the use of its name on Ozy’s branding material.
Ozy’s early backers include Google’s chief legal officer David Drummond and Mr Conway, while Politico buyer Axel Springer also became an investor seven years ago.
Ozy believes its market value to be around $159m (£118m) after raising in excess of $83m (£62m) by April last year, according to PitchBook data cited by the New York Times.
Ms Watson, who also sits on the US non-profit radio company NPR, stepped down as host of the News & Documentary Emmy Awards on Tuesday night.
Ozy had an early brush with scandal four years ago when BuzzFeed reported that it had bought web traffic that caused articles to appear for readers without their knowledge.
The company responded by saying it had taken those steps to help grow its email lists and advertisers had not been charged for those views.