US orders Al Jazeera’s AJ+ to register as foreign agent

US orders Al Jazeera’s AJ+ to register as foreign agent
The US Justice Department has ordered Al Jazeera’s affiliate youth channel AJ+ to register as a foreign agent. (Shutterstock)
Short Url
Updated 17 September 2020

US orders Al Jazeera’s AJ+ to register as foreign agent

US orders Al Jazeera’s AJ+ to register as foreign agent
  • AJ+, a network only found on social media channels, produces short videos
  • Al Jazeera has been called a useful tool for Qatar’s ruling elite

LONDON: The US Justice Department has ordered Al Jazeera’s affiliate youth channel AJ+ to register as a foreign agent for engaging in “political activities” on behalf of the Qatari government, according to reports. 

The move comes a few months after US Congress members demanded that Al Jazeera itself be registered and subject to the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).

AJ+, a youth network only found on social media channels, produces short videos in English Arabic, French and Spanish.

The Justice Department stated in a letter dated Monday that Qatar provides the channel with funding and appoints its board of directors.

“Journalism designed to influence American perceptions of a domestic policy issue or a foreign nation’s activities or its leadership qualifies as ‘political activities’ under the statutory definition, even if it views itself as ‘balanced’,” stated the letter, which was signed by Jay I. Bratt, head of the department’s counterintelligence division, and first obtained by American magazine Mother Jones.

Al Jazeera has been called a useful tool for Qatar’s ruling elite, which sympathizes with the Muslim Brotherhood and other terrorist and extremist groups.

In 2017, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain severed diplomatic ties with Qatar in order to pressure it to halt its alleged terrorism financing and shut down the network.

FARA calls on certain agents of foreign entities operating in the US and engaged in political or other activities to disclose their relationship with foreign nations.

AJ+ has consistently found itself mired in controversy. Its Arabic channel was slammed following the release of a video about the Holocaust, and for tweeting an anti-Semitic meme.

The video suggested that Jews had skewed facts about the Holocaust, and that Israel was the “biggest winner” from it.


Indonesian celebrity’s party blunder sparks criticism over vaccine campaign

Indonesian celebrity’s party blunder sparks criticism over vaccine campaign
Updated 18 January 2021

Indonesian celebrity’s party blunder sparks criticism over vaccine campaign

Indonesian celebrity’s party blunder sparks criticism over vaccine campaign
  • Indonesia planning to inoculate 181 million in nationwide vaccination drive

JAKARTA: The Indonesian government’s strategy to promote coronavirus vaccination is under fire after an influencer who received a vaccine jab last week was spotted violating health guidelines just a few
hours later.

Indonesia started the nationwide vaccination drive on Wednesday to inoculate 181 million of its 276 million people, after the national drug regulator authorized the emergency use of the Chinese-made CoronaVac vaccine developed by Sinovac Biotech and the country’s highest authority on Islamic affairs approved it as halal, or permissible under Islamic law.

President Joko Widodo, who was the first Indonesian to receive the vaccine, described the campaign as a “game changer,” amid hopes that achieving herd immunity would help to revive the economy, which has been reeling from the pandemic. 

Alongside officials and religious leaders, 33-year-old soap opera star Raffi Ahmad also received the jab. Government strategists hoped he would promote vaccine acceptance with his huge social media presence of some 50 million followers on Instagram and 19 million on YouTube.

However, soon after receiving his shot Ahmad was photographed at a party, without a face mask and violating social distancing measures imposed by the government to contain the virus spread. The photos quickly made the rounds on social media, provoking a backlash to the government’s campaign and resulting in a lawsuit against the celebrity.

“He was really careless. He is tasked with promoting the vaccination drive, but he failed to behave accordingly,” said David Tobing, an independent lawyer who has filed the case against Ahmad for “violating the regulations to control the pandemic and for public indecency.”

“I demand in my lawsuit that the court order Ahmad to stay at home for 30 days after he gets his second vaccine jab and to issue a public apology in national print and broadcast media,” Tobing told Arab News on Saturday. “I filed the lawsuit after I received a lot of feedback from the public, including COVID-19 survivors and those who have lost loved ones because of the coronavirus.”

Ahmad has apologized on social media, saying that he did not want to disappoint the president and the public after getting the privilege of being vaccinated, but justified going to the party as it was held at a private home and said that he taken the mask off only to eat. The first hearing against Ahmad is scheduled to be held at a district court in Depok near Jakarta on Jan. 27, Tobing said. He added that he is aware that Ahmad had apologized but the actor “did not seem to have any regret.”

In response to a question by Arab News at a press briefing after the incident, national COVID-19 task force spokesman Wiku Adisasmito said that officials had reprimanded Ahmad over the blunder. He justified the involvement of celebrities in the vaccination campaign.

“When we have a major program like vaccination, we hope that a big influencer such as Raffi Ahmad can play a pivotal role to make sure young people will support the vaccination,” Adisasmito said.

Experts have criticized the government’s strategy, saying that Ahmad receiving the vaccine is unlikely to appease public concerns over the vaccine’s efficacy and possible side effects.

“Health professionals, religious figures and government officials have more credibility and integrity to promote this vaccination drive than influencers,” said Sulfikar Amir, a sociologist from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

Amir, who initiated a petition in early December calling on the government to give vaccinations to all citizens when Jakarta was still planning to inoculate only selected groups, said that by appointing the celebrity influencer to promote immunization the government showed that it “has no ability to influence the public to take part in the vaccination drive.”

“This is not the same as promoting consumer goods that the influencers normally do,” he said. “It is about public health issues.”