US politicians target Al Jazeera with new media disclosure law

Al Jazeera has come under fire in the US with accusations that it spreads the message from terror groups. (AFP)
Updated 04 January 2019
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US politicians target Al Jazeera with new media disclosure law

  • Qatari broadcaster may be forced to reveal its finances and operational control by Doha
  • A group of Republican members of Congress have increased pressure on Al Jazeera in the past year

LONDON: US politicians plan to use a new financial disclosure law aimed at foreign media companies to force more transparency from Al Jazeera and other Qatari outlets. 

The law, introduced last year, requires foreign-owned TV stations broadcasting in America to register and file regular reports with the US media regulator, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

The reports must include information about financing and operational control exerted by parent companies abroad.

A group of Republican members of Congress have increased pressure on Al Jazeera in the past year over allegations that it spreads terrorist propaganda and promotes the interests of the Qatari government, The Daily Beast reported. 

A spokesperson for one of them, Lee Zeldin, said he welcomed any effort to force the channel to reveal details of its relationship with the Qatari government.

“He is supportive of requiring Al Jazeera, for example, to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act,” the spokesperson said. FARA, passed in 1938, requires foreign government lobbyists working in the US to disclose details about their operations and backing.

The Republicans hope the new FCC requirements will provide an alternative to the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

“This measure, if implemented, will reveal the extent of the intervention and influence that Qatar has exerted in the American political and media circles,” Egyptian media analyst Abdellatif El-Menawy said. “Had Al Jazeera been forced to disclose its financial transactions, it would expose the methods used by Qatar to buy supporters of its positions.

“This will also confirm what we have been saying for many years: that Al Jazeera can not be considered merely a media outlet but a tool in the hands of a political system that achieves political objectives.”

A Republican aide said other Qatari media organisations should come under the spotlight as well.

“The Qataris also run outlets like Middle East Eye and other digital platforms ,” the aide said. “Some are US-based, some just transmit here, some publish overseas and get bounced into Twitter and Facebook by bots. If they were paying lobbyists to do it they’d have to register under FARA and log all their activities, so we’d have transparency into how they’re targeting Americans. But since it’s their own media, the network and their influence are opaque.”

The law, included in a military spending bill, was designed to counter Russian news organizations harming US interests. No Qatari or Russian media outlet has yet registered with the FCC. 

In a letter to the then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions in April, 17 Republicans, including Zeldin and Senator Ted Cruz, questioned Al Jazeera’s failure to register as a foreign agent.

“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,” they wrote. “Al Jazeera’s record of radical anti-American, anti-Semitic, and anti-Israel broadcasts warrants scrutiny from regulators to determine whether this network is in violation of US law.”

Al Jazeera did not respond to a request for comment.

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A history of scandals at Al Jazeera

In 2010, internal communications in the US State Department said Qatar manipulates Al Jazeera’s coverage to suits its political interests.
Al Jazeera has been accused of adopting an anti-India tone in its reports and of spreading “Hinduphobia.”

In 2012, Al Jazeera’s long time Berlin correspondent, Aktham Suliman resigned claiming that he felt  the organization had become “a propaganda broadcaster,”  saying the station follows “the interests of the foreign ministry of Qatar” rather than journalistic priorities. 

The Lebanese-born American political pundit, Walid Shares, alleged that Al Jazeera was the “primary ideological and communication network” for the Muslim Brotherhood in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria 2011.

In July 2013, 22 staff resigned from the Al Jazeera Egyptian bureau, claiming coverage was biased in favour of the Muslim Brotherhood.

In December 13, 2013, Egyptians security forces arrested three Al Jazeera journalists  at the Marriott Hotel in Cairo. In June 2014, all were found guilty of collaborating with the Muslim Brotherhood, which is banned in Egypt. All were released on bail and eventually pardoned but one of the journalists, Mohamed Fahmy sued Al Jazeera  for negligence. 

The Indian government banned Al Jazeera for five days in April 2015 after the station repeatedly showed maps which did not show disputed territories as being in India.

US officials have accused Al Jazeera of anti-American bias since the 9/11 attacks, when the station broadcast videos in which Osama bin Laden justified them.

In 2003, the Washington bureau chief resigned in protest at the station’s “Islamist drift.”


Former militant Tania Joya now fights to ‘reprogram’ extremists

Updated 20 July 2019
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Former militant Tania Joya now fights to ‘reprogram’ extremists

  • Tania Joya grew up confronted by racism and the struggles of integration
  • ‘It’s really important to de-radicalize them, rehabilitate’ these people

WASHINGTON: Tania Joya has devoted her life to “reprogramming” extremists and reintroducing them into society — a process she understands well as a “former Islamic militant” herself.
“My aim is for them to feel a sense of remorse and to train them so that they can be good citizens once they are released from prison, so they can adjust to society,” Joya said during a visit to Washington, to present a project on preventing extremist violence.
Born in 1984 near London to a Muslim Bangladeshi family, Joya grew up confronted by racism and the struggles of integration. She radicalized at age 17, after the September 11 terror attacks in New York and Osama bin Laden’s call for a global jihad.
In 2004, she married an American Muslim-convert, Yahya Al-Bahrumi (born John Georgelas). She began advocating for an Islamic state, for which her three children would be soldiers.
But in 2013, her husband took her and their children against her will to northwestern Syria to join militant insurgents. Joya reported her husband to US authorities and, after three weeks, fled Syria to the United States.
Joya settled in Texas, her husband’s home state. There, she changed her life, divorced and re-married.
Yahya, her first husband, joined the Daesh group, which would soon control large swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq. He was in charge of the group’s English-language propaganda, and Joya said he became the “highest-ranking American” in the Daesh group.
He died in 2017 during fighting in Mayadin, in northern Syria, as the so-called Daesh “caliphate” crumbled.
However, this created a new problem — Western militants or their spouses and children wanting to come home.
Joya realized that she had something to offer. “It’s really important to de-radicalize them, rehabilitate” these people, she said.
“It’s reprogramming them and giving them a sense of hope in the political process.”
It’s also important to “get them to understand the psychology and the patterns... what led them to extremism,” understanding “the rejection many in the US and Europe faced growing up there, the cultural conflict, the crisis they went through,” she said.
“Once it’s all explained to them, very logically, they will accept it just as I did.”
Joya favors repatriating foreign rebels from the Middle East so they can be judged in their countries of origin.
While that is the US policy, many European countries such as France are wary of taking in the militants.
In May and June, 11 French nationals were sentenced to die in Iraq for their affiliation to Daesh.
Joya has campaigned for the return of Shamima Begum, who joined the militant group when she was just 15 but now wants to return home to Britain. However, Begum’s lack of remorse has turned public opinion against her, and the British government stripped her of her citizenship in February.
Kurdish-run camps in northeast Syria have taken in some 12,000 foreign fighters from 40 different countries, including 4,000 women and 8,000 children whose fathers are militants.
Countries with militants stranded in refugee camps “are responsible for these individuals,” said Joya. “We can’t just push them off to the Middle East, to the Kurdish people... the abuses they’re facing in these camps are only confirming their beliefs of radicalization.”
Joya is participating in the Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE) program organized by the Clarion Program, a US non-profit dedicated to educating people “about the growing phenomenon of Islamic extremism,” according to its website.
The PVE program provides “communication models” that offer “workshops for youth so that before a child is even indoctrinated or introduced to radical ideologies, they’ve really been inoculated” against religious and ideological extremism, said national program coordinator Shireen Qudosi.
“That goes from gangs, to radical ideologies: antifa, neo-Nazi groups, Islamist extremism,” she said.