The United States Congress approved new legislation that would force foreign-owned media organizations, such as Qatar’s Al Jazeera, to register as a foreign agent under U.S. regulations.
The National Defense Authorization Act has now been signed into law by President Donald Trump, which will require the federal government to more closely monitor Al Jazeera and other similar organizations, operating in the United States. Currently two Russian news organizations and the distributors of China Daily are registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).
Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League explained, “The standard for registration under FARA is basically whether or not an entity such as a media outlet seeks to influence U.S. public opinion or policy on behalf of a foreign political entity such as a government.”
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The move was triggered by Al Jazeera’s attempt to infiltrate Jewish campaign groups in the United States, which created controversy after they were found to have been secretly recording these organizations.
Support for the bill was widespread and bipartisan across Congress, with Ted Cruz (R-Texas) alongside 16 congressmen writing to Attorney General Jeff Session, calling for the enforcement of FARA on Al Jazeera. One of the bill’s co-sponsors, Congressman Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), said at the time that “American citizens deserve to know the difference between foreign propaganda and independent media.”
A leaked 2009 cable from the then-United States ambassador to Qatar charged that Al Jazeera was “an informal tool of [the Government of Qatar’s] foreign policy.”
This assessment was reinforced last year when a former Al Jazeera English bureau chief in Cairo charged that Qatar used its satellite network as a “weapon against its neighbors” and accused it of endangering the “lives of journalists because of dealings with Hamas, [and] the Muslim Brotherhood.”
In addition to its problematic ties with the government of Qatar, Al Jazeera has been repeatedly accused of hosting terrorist sympathizers and anti-Semites, with critics pointing to the stark difference between their English and Arabic language output.
In 2009, Egyptian cleric, Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, who has been living in exile in Doha for over 50 years, praised Hitler for perpetrating the Holocaust on the channel, saying that “throughout history God has sent people to punish the Jews for their corruption,” before going on to say “next time it will be at the hand of the believers, god willing.” He had a primetime slot on the channel for a number of years.
Another prominent example is Al Jazeera’s reporting in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 that Jews had been “warned in advance” not to go into work that day, which was criticized in a New York Times editorial.
In 2008 the channel hosted a party for former Hezbollah member Samir Kuntar, who was convicted for the murder of four Israelis in 1979, including a 4-year-old girl. On the show, the host praised Kuntar as a pan-Arab hero saying “Brother Samir, we wish to celebrate your birthday with you.”
Al Jazeera was launched in 1996 and Al Jazeera English began broadcasting in 2006. The channel has become the most watched satellite television station in the Middle East.