Al Jazeera rebuts renewed push for 'foreign agent' registration

Al Jazeera says it's not required to register under FARA after Republican congressmen called for DOJ evaluation.

    The Al Jazeera Media Network logo is seen on its headquarters building in Doha, Qatar [Showkat Shafi/Al Jazeera]
    The Al Jazeera Media Network logo is seen on its headquarters building in Doha, Qatar [Showkat Shafi/Al Jazeera]

    Al Jazeera has rejected calls from some US Republican politicians for the Department of Justice to provide information on its evaluation into whether the media organisation should be required to register as a foreign agent in the United States.

    "Al Jazeera Media Network, its channels and its platforms, including AJ+, operate with editorial independence while receiving public funding and, in this respect, are similar to most global media organizations, including the BBC, CBC, and Deutsche Welle," Al Jazeera Media Network (AJMN) said.

    "AJMN is a Private Foundation for Public Benefit under Qatari law; it is not owned by Qatar, and its reporting is not directed or controlled by the Qatari government nor does it reflect any government viewpoint. Therefore, FARA registration is not required," the network added. 

    A group of Republican members of Congress sent a letter to the Department of Justice on Tuesday, seeking information on "any steps taken" by the department to determine if Al Jazeera should be required to register under the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA), according to a press release by Republican Senator Chuck Grassley's office.

    The letter, authored by Senators Grassley, Marco Rubio, Tom Cotton, John Cornyn, Todd Young and Ted Cruz, and Representatives Mike Johnson and Lee Zeldin, asked the DOJ to explain why "Al Jazeera and its employees have not been required to register" under FARA, citing reasons for why they believe the network may have an obligation to be listed under the act. 

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    FARA is a little enforced 1938 US law that was originally passed to combat Nazi propaganda.

    It has since been used to keep track of foreign influence on US politicians through mandatory filings of employee contracts, contracts between the organisation and foreign governments, correspondence or any other documents that could be used to influence US policy.

    But the act has received renewed attention following the US special counsel's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, which resulted in charges related to FARA against some former Trump campaign officials.

    Last year, Russia-backed media RT and other outlets were required to register under the law.

    Media rights groups have expressed concern that the calls to require international media organisations in the US to register under FARA violate the freedom of speech, a right guaranteed under the First Amendment of the US Constitution. 

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    "We believe it would be wrong and counter-productive to censor a news organization whose work has won wide praise from the international journalism community," Andrea Edney, the National Press Club's former president, said in a statement in October 2018 following similar calls from some US Congress members that Al Jazeera register under FARA.

    Al Jazeera Media Network said this week that the network "has won the respect and recognition of its peers in journalism".

    It added that since 2011, "the network and its channels have won nearly 300 awards and recognitions, including five Peabody awards, three International Emmy Awards, the Overseas Press Club's prestigious Edward R Murrow award in 2019, and the New York Festivals Broadcaster of the Year for three consecutive years, to name but a few.''

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News