Qatar-based news broadcaster Al Jazeera has been obliged to register its online digital news service AJ+ as a “foreign agent” by the US Department of Justice (DoJ). It means that AJ+ is now subject to the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).
The DoJ, in a letter to the Al Jazeera Media Network, alleges the broadcaster engages in “political activities” on behalf of the Qatar government. AJ+ produces videos for social media in English, Arabic, French and Spanish. With offices in Doha and Washington, DC, the FARA determination would only apply to AJ+ English-language staffers based in the US.
Al Jazeera, in a statement, said: “Jay I Bratt, the DOJ’s counterintelligence chief, said in his letter that the Qatari government provides Al Jazeera’s funding and appoints its board of directors.”
The critical DoJ letter continued: “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.”
Al Jazeera responded, saying that the DoJ decision was motivated by “relentless lobbying efforts by the government of the UAE, which has long tried to pressure Qatar into shutting down the Al Jazeera Media Network.”
The broadcaster quotes Patrick Toomey, senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, who warned against the FARA designation, saying the administration of President Donald Trump should not target news outlets for political reasons.
“This order is a threat to the freedom of the press,” Toomey said. “People in the United States rely on dedicated news organisations for reporting on world events and the human impact of our government’s policies around the globe. The government should not misuse a vague and overboard ‘foreign agent’ law to target news organisations for political purposes.”