Qatari broadcast network Al Jazeera will be forced to disclose its ownership and the source of its funding under a new law passed in the US.
A clause in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which became law this week, requires foreign media outlets based in the US to reveal their relationship to foreign governments or political parties, and to report on the funding they receive from such “foreign principals.” The information must be submitted within 60 days and thereafter every six months.
The information is submitted to the US Congress and posted on the website of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), an independent government agency responsible for regulating the radio, television and telephone industries and all inter-state and international communications via wire, satellite and cable.
The new law is an indication of the growing mistrust with which the US, an ally of Doha, views the news channel because of Qatar’s support for groups which the US designates as terrorist organizations.
Both Republican and Democrat politicians have pressed the US Department of Justice to compel Al Jazeera to be registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) because of the station’s “radical anti-American” content. In March, 19 politicians wrote to Attorney-General Jeff Sessions citing their concerns.
“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 including Hamas, Hezbollah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Jabhat Al-Nusra, Al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria,” they wrote.
The Justice Department defines the purpose of the FARA law as “to inform the American public of the activities of agents working for foreign principals to influence US government officials or the American public with reference to the the domestic or foreign policies of the US.”
The Middle East Forum (MEF) think tank has also lobbied for closer scrutiny of Al Jazeera and welcomed the measure, which President Donald Trump signed into law on Monday.
Though the law applies to foreign media in general, the MEF said it was prompted “primarily from abuses by Al Jazeera,” which was described as “a political project masquerading in the guise of journalism.”
The revelation that, according to the Congressional Directory, Al Jazeera had 175 staff accredited to the US Senate and House of Representatives in 2016 rang alarm bells. In comparison, in the same year, The New York Times had 43 accredited correspondents and the Washington Post had 111.
“That Al Jazeera has more reporters covering Congress than The New York Times and the Washington Post combined hints at something going on beyond journalism,” said MEF director Gregg Roman.“With more transparency, we will learn more about the Qatari government’s intentions.”
All Al Jazeera videos on YouTube already have to carry a disclaimer stating that the channel is entirely or partly funded by the Qatar government.
Al Jazeera did not respond to requests for a comment, but declared it was “shocked” when the 19 US politicians called for FARA registration and accused them of trying to curtail press freedom.
In a statement released at the time, the network insisted it followed no political agenda and maintained editorial independence “from any governmental institutions, Qatari or otherwise.”
If compelled to register under FARA, Al Jazeera would join China Daily and People’s Daily Overseas Edition (both English-language outlets), the Korean broadcaster KBS, Japanese broadcaster NHK Cosmomedia and — since last November — the pro-Kremlin network RT America, which was previously known as Russia Today.