US Congress leaders demand probe into Al Jazeera’s status

Al Jazeera has come under scrutiny from US lawmakers, calling for the expulsion of the Qatari-owned satellite television news network for violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). (AFP)
Updated 25 June 2019
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US Congress leaders demand probe into Al Jazeera’s status

  • Legitimate questions are raised about whether the news outlet should register as a foreign agent

CHICAGO: Six Republican leaders of the House and Senate called for the expulsion of the Qatari-owned satellite television news network Al Jazeera accusing it of violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).

Six GOP US senators including Charles Grassley of Iowa, Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida are demanding an investigation into why Al Jazeera is permitted to operate on American territory while two major Chinese government-controlled news agencies, Xinhua News Agency and China Global Television Network, are required to register under FARA.

The senators and representatives are calling for the Department of Justice to open hearings into Al Jazeera’s work in the US, accusing the government-owned Arabic and English-language news outlet of being an “agent” of the government of Qatar, which has been criticized as a safe haven and sponsor of the Muslim Brotherhood and other religious extremist groups. Qatar is also accused of being an ally of Iran.

“News articles have reported activities in which Al Jazeera Media Network (Al Jazeera) is engaged that raise legitimate questions about whether it should register as a foreign agent,” the letter addressed to US Attorney General William Barr argues.

“Al Jazeera is a global organization spanning dozens of countries, including the United States, and reaches hundreds of millions of people worldwide. In 2016, its offshoot, Al Jazeera America, closed. However, Al Jazeera expanded its digital presence via Al Jazeera Plus (AJ+), its online news channel which is headquartered in the United States.”

HIGHLIGHT

The senators and representatives are calling for the Department of Justice to open hearings into Al Jazeera’s work in the US, accusing it of being an ‘agent’ of the government of Qatar.

The letter, dated June 18, 2019, argues that Al Jazeera, founded in 1996, is owned and operated by members of the Qatari royal family.

“Al Jazeera’s videos on YouTube are stamped with the disclaimer, ‘Al Jazeera is funded in whole or in part by the Qatari government.’ Thus, Al Jazeera is not only a foreign principal, but it is also owned by a foreign principal – the government of Qatar,” the Congressional and Senate leaders claim.

“Several members of the ruling family of Qatar have held senior positions at Al Jazeera: Sheikh Hamad bin Thamer Al-Thani, a member of the ruling family of Qatar, is the chairman of Al Jazeera; Sheikh Abdulrahman bin Hamad bin Jassim bin Hamad Al-Thani is the CEO of Qatar Media Corporation and a board member of Al Jazeera;  Sheikh Ahmed bin Jassim Al-Thani served as the director general of Al Jazeera from 2011 until June 2013.

“Given that members of the ruling family are in charge of managing the media network, it is more likely than not that the government can and will assert editorial control over media content.”

All of the signatories of the letter are outspoken critics of the Palestinian cause, and champions of Israel, and are among the largest recipients of campaign contributions from Israel’s American-based lobbying umbrella network, AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee). AIPAC, whose network donates hundreds of millions to the election campaigns of thousands of elected officials from senators all the way down to local legislators, is also not registered under FARA.

The letter comes as Qatari officials are launching a “charm offensive” to woo the administration of President Donald Trump. Trump is expected to meet in July with Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani at the White House.

Critics, predominantly pro-Israel, have argued that Al Jazeera exploits its Arabic and English-language dual roles, embracing extremist and often anti-Semitic rhetoric in its Arabic broadcasts while softening language in its English online platforms.

In response to the criticism, Al Jazeera announced it was suspending two of its reporters for accusing Israel of being “the biggest winner from the Holocaust.”

Since its foundation, Al Jazeera has drifted further and further to the extreme. After its launch, it was banned from being broadcast or carried by many American-based cable TV systems that routinely carry news broadcasts from most other foreign countries including Israel. That changed after September 11, 2001, and Al Jazeera began to spend millions on opening offices in 12 American cities including in New York City in 2013.

Al Jazeera responded in a statement released to several US news outlets that it “is not owned by Qatar” and that “its reporting is not directed or controlled by the Qatari government nor does it reflect any government viewpoint.”


Netflix to roll out cheaper mobile-only plan for India

Updated 18 July 2019
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Netflix to roll out cheaper mobile-only plan for India

  • India is among the last big growth markets for the company
  • Netflix faces competition from Amazon’s Prime Video and Walt Disney Co’s Hotstar
Netflix said on Wednesday it would roll out a lower-priced mobile-only plan in India within the next three months to tap into a price-sensitive market at a time the streaming company is losing customers in its home turf.
India is among the last big growth markets for the company, where it faces competition from Amazon.com Inc’s Prime Video and Hotstar, a video streaming platform owned by Walt Disney Co’s India unit.
Netflix lost US streaming customers for the first time in eight years on Wednesday, when it posted quarterly results. It also missed targets for new subscribers overseas.
“India is a mobile-first nation, where many first-time users are experiencing the Internet on their phones. In such a scenario, a mobile-only package makes sense to target new users,” said Tarun Pathak, analyst at Counterpoint Research.
The creator of “Stranger Things” and “The Crown” said in March that it was testing a 250-rupee ($3.63) monthly subscription for mobile devices in India, where data plans are among the cheapest in the world.
The country figures prominently in Chief Executive Officer Reed Hastings’ global expansion plans.
“We believe this plan, which will launch in the third quarter, will be an effective way to introduce a larger number of people in India to Netflix and to further expand our business,” the company said in a letter to investors released late on Wednesday.
Netflix currently offers three monthly plans in India, priced between 500 rupees ($7.27) and 800 rupees $11.63).
It has created a niche following in the country by launching local original shows like the thriller “Sacred Games” and dystopian tale “Leila,” which feature popular Bollywood actors.
The second season of “Sacred Games” is set to release in August.
In contrast, Hotstar, which also offers content from AT&T Inc’s HBO and also streams live sports, charges 299 rupees ($4.35) per month. Amazon bundles its video and music streaming services with its Prime membership.
“We’ve been seeing nice steady increases in engagement with our Indian viewers that we think we can keep building on. Growth in that country is a marathon, so we’re in it for the long haul,” Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos said.