AJ+, Al Jazeera’s online channel, has been told to register as a foreign agent by the US government, under a precedent set against RT and Chinese outlets in recent years. The Qatar-based outlet is blaming UAE lobbyists.
“Despite assertions of editorial independence and freedom of expression, Al Jazeera Media Network and its affiliates are controlled and funded by the Government of Qatar,” Jay Bratt, head of the counterintelligence and export control at the Department of Justice, wrote in a letter sent to Al Jazeera on Monday, according to Mother Jones magazine.
That means AJ+ is required to register as an agent of the Qatari government, under the 1938 Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).
In some professional but still personal news – AJ+ is being forced by the Trump administration to register as a foreign agent, under FARA, after three years of UAE & GOP-led lobbying efforts. This is an attack on the freedom of press.
— Sana Saeed (@SanaSaeed) September 15, 2020
Al Jazeera journalist Sana Saeed confirmed the FARA order, calling it an “attack on the freedom of press.” The entire situation is “very unnerving and uncertain,” she added, noting that she was concerned about the implications on AJ+ journalists who weren’t US citizens.
Mother Jones attributed the FARA designation to lobbying on part of the United Arab Emirates, citing an unnamed spokesperson for Al Jazeera who said that this was “one of the top conditions of the UAE’s blockade against Qatar.”
The UAE and its allies – Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt – cut off ties with Qatar in June 2017. The day after the DOJ FARA letter, the UAE and Bahrain signed a US-brokered peace deal with Israel at the White House.
Al Jazeera provided an “extensive factual record” to the DOJ arguing that a FARA registration should not apply to AJ+, since its “legal structure, editorial structure, editorial policies, budgeting process and content” all demonstrate its independence, the spokesperson said. The DOJ thought otherwise, however, so Al Jazeera is now “considering options.”
Republican lawmakers have urged the Trump administration to compel FARA registration for Al Jazeera on at least three occasions since 2018, accusing it of “radical anti-American, anti-Semitic, anti-Israel broadcasts.”
These demands relied on precedent established when the DOJ ordered RT America and Sputnik to register under FARA in 2017. Since then, several Chinese outlets and the Turkish TRT have been compelled to do the same, mostly to the thunderous silence of US mainstream media.
“These FARA designations were always political,” tweeted Rania Khalek, a Lebanon-based journalist. “I imagine there are people on here who will be rightly upset about this but didn’t care or even cheered when it happened to RT. Reflect on that.”
I imagine there are people on here who will be rightly upset about this but didn’t care or even cheered when it happened to RT. Reflect on that.
— Rania Khalek (@RaniaKhalek) September 15, 2020
“Back when Trump’s DOJ forced RT to register as a foreign agent, there was a collective media yawn,” noted Grayzone’s Aaron Mate. “A few of us tried to warn that it was a dangerous action, but Russiagate was just too fashionable.”
Back when Trump’s DOJ forced RT to register as a foreign agent, there was a collective media yawn. A few of us tried to warn that it was a dangerous action, but Russiagate was just too fashionable. No surprise to see AJ+ now being targeted: https://t.co/zWe2DLW5YCpic.twitter.com/3GgHNhaRZf
— Aaron Maté (@aaronjmate) September 15, 2020
Among those who did raise warning flags was Al Jazeera’s Saaed, who pointed that out on Tuesday, recalling that “many in this industry supported the designation.”
AJ+ began as a YouTube channel in 2013, and has since expanded to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, with written content featured on Medium. It became Al Jazeera’s primary means of reaching American audiences after the closure of its US-based TV network in 2016.
Though a campaign of criticism in mainstream US media preceded the decision to shut down Al Jazeera America (AJAM), the project was beset with problems from the very start. Qatar had paid $500 million in 2013 to take over former Vice President Al Gore’s channel Current TV, only to lose access to 16 million homes – more than a third of the distribution footprint it paid for – after a cable operator Time Warner dropped them.
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