Al Jazeera comes under scrutiny in the US

A new US law forcing foreign media outlets to disclose ownership and funding information was prompted by Al Jazeera’s ‘abuses,’ media analysts said. (AFP)
Updated 15 August 2018

Al Jazeera comes under scrutiny in the US

  • Controversial Qatari network will be forced to reveal funding and ownership details under new legislation
  • The revelation that Al Jazeera had 175 staff accredited to the US Senate and House of Representatives in 2016 rang alarm bells

LONDON: Qatari broadcast network Al Jazeera will be forced to disclose its ownership and the source of its funding under a new law passed in the US.
A clause in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which became law this week, requires foreign media outlets based in the US to reveal their relationship to foreign governments or political parties, and to report on the funding they receive from such “foreign principals.” The information must be submitted within 60 days and thereafter every six months.
The information is submitted to the US Congress and posted on the website of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), an independent government agency responsible for regulating the radio, television and telephone industries and all inter-state and international communications via wire, satellite and cable.
The new law is an indication of the growing mistrust with which the US, an ally of Doha, views the news channel because of Qatar’s support for groups which the US designates as terrorist organizations.
Both Republican and Democrat politicians have pressed the US Department of Justice to compel Al Jazeera to be registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) because of the station’s “radical anti-American” content. In March, 19 politicians wrote to Attorney-General Jeff Sessions citing their concerns.
“We find it troubling that the content produced by this network often directly undermines American interests with favorable coverage of US State Department-designated foreign terrorist organizations including Hamas, Hezbollah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Jabhat Al-Nusra, Al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria,” they wrote.
The Justice Department defines the purpose of the FARA law as “to inform the American public of the activities of agents working for foreign principals to influence US government officials or the American public with reference to the the domestic or foreign policies of the US.”
The Middle East Forum (MEF) think tank has also lobbied for closer scrutiny of Al Jazeera and welcomed the measure, which President Donald Trump signed into law on Monday.
Though the law applies to foreign media in general, the MEF said it was prompted “primarily from abuses by Al Jazeera,” which was described as “a political project masquerading in the guise of journalism.”
The revelation that, according to the Congressional Directory, Al Jazeera had 175 staff accredited to the US Senate and House of Representatives in 2016 rang alarm bells. In comparison, in the same year, The New York Times had 43 accredited correspondents and the Washington Post had 111.
“That Al Jazeera has more reporters covering Congress than The New York Times and the Washington Post combined hints at something going on beyond journalism,” said MEF director Gregg Roman.
“With more transparency, we will learn more about the Qatari government’s intentions.”
All Al Jazeera videos on YouTube already have to carry a disclaimer stating that the channel is entirely or partly funded by the Qatar government.
Al Jazeera did not respond to requests for a comment, but declared it was “shocked” when the 19 US politicians called for FARA registration and accused them of trying to curtail press freedom.
In a statement released at the time, the network insisted it followed no political agenda and maintained editorial independence “from any governmental institutions, Qatari or otherwise.”
If compelled to register under FARA, Al Jazeera would join China Daily and People’s Daily Overseas Edition (both English-language outlets), the Korean broadcaster KBS, Japanese broadcaster NHK Cosmomedia and — since last November — the pro-Kremlin network RT America, which was previously known as Russia Today.

Hamas media facing financial meltdown

Updated 20 February 2019

Hamas media facing financial meltdown

  • Beirut-based Al-Quds TV faces corruption claims after closure warning
  • The channel has been experiencing a financial crisis for the past three years

GAZA CITY: The announcement by Palestinian television channel Al-Quds TV that it will stop broadcasting by the end of February if it does not receive desperately needed funding highlights the financial crisis facing Hamas’ media institutions.

Imad Ifranji, Al-Quds TV’s director, said on Tuesday that if funds failed to arrive by the end of this month, “it is inevitable that the channel will shut down.” 

The Beirut-based channel’s Gaza office has been unable to cover its costs for the past four months and 50 employees have not received salaries for almost a year.

Al-Quds TV had 350 staff when it was launched in 2008, but now has only 150.

The channel has been experiencing a financial crisis for the past three years, despite cutting costs and reducing staff, Ifranji said.

Hamas began building its media “empire” following its victory in the 2006 elections and the imposition of absolute control over the Gaza Strip in mid-2007.

The fundamentalist organization enjoyed years of financial prosperity thanks to Iranian support, internal fees and taxes, and the use of smuggling tunnels across the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt.

Hamas’ financial crisis began with the decline of Iranian support in 2012 and escalated after the Egyptian Army overthrew Muslim Brotherhood President Mohammed Mursi in 2013, leading to growing tension tension between the group and Egypt.

Its extensive media network has also faced claims of corruption and mismanagement by current employees and former staff members.

A few months ago, Al-Quds TV was forced to lay off dozens of employees. The channel’s debts are believed to run into millions of dollars.

The Palestinian Information Center website, the oldest and largest Hamas news site in seven languages, closed its office in the Gaza Strip.

A senior employee of a Hamas media organization in Gaza, who declined to be named, said that websites affiliated with the Izz Al-Din Al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, were also facing a financial crisis.

Some, such as the “8 o’clock” website were threatened with closure.

Saber Halima, an employee at Al-Quds TV’s Beirut headquarters, criticized the management of the channel, accusing senior employees of corruption and mismanagement. In a video posted on his Facebook page, Halima described the management’s treatment of employees during the crisis as “despicable and humiliating.”

Al-Aqsa TV, which broadcasts from Gaza, announced on Dec. 19 that it would stop broadcasting because of a lack of funding.

However, Wissam Afifah, the channel’s director general, told Arab News that it would continue to broadcast after paying its debts to the satellite channel Noorsat, estimated at $220,000.

Al-Aqsa TV, which is broadcasting from temporary offices after Israel bombed its main headquarters in Gaza in November, is required to pay a similar amount to the satellite to continue operating.

The channel’s management said it is unlikely the destroyed headquarters will be rebuilt with losses estimated at about $4 million. An employee of Al-Aqsa TV told Arab News that about 200 staff had not received full pay for more than a year.

The employee’s monthly salary was estimated at $800. He had received only $550 in the past four months — $400 two months ago and $150 a few days ago.

Yahya Sinwar, Hamas’ chief in Gaza, said the organization was considering closing small media institutions and merging other institutions to ease the financial crisis.

Analysts say the continuing Israeli and Palestinian National Authority restrictions on Gaza will only intensify the problems facing Hamas.

Hossam Al-Dajni, an academic close to Hamas, said: “The main reason behind the financial crisis is the developments in the region, such as Iraq, Syria and Yemen, and US pressure on Iran with regard to its nuclear program.”