US politicians target Al Jazeera with new media disclosure law

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

US politicians target Al Jazeera with new media disclosure law

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.”