US lawmakers push for review of Al Jazeera as foreign agent

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is urged to investigate Qatar-based TV network
A news photographer films the logo of the new Al Jazeera America nightly news program America Tonight. (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images - for illustrative purposes only)
By Bloomberg
Wed 07 Mar 2018 04:05 PM

A bipartisan group of US lawmakers is calling on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to investigate whether Al Jazeera, the Middle Eastern news outlet chartered by the Qatari government, should register with the Justice Department as a foreign agent.

Al Jazeera “directly undermines American interests,” according to a letter sent by Representatives Josh Gottheimer, a New Jersey Democrat; Lee Zeldin, a New York Republican; and 16 other House members. Senator Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, also signed the letter. The lawmakers added that the State Department has determined the news organization, which is headquartered in Doha, is state controlled.

Al Jazeera didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

It would be the third news organization to receive such scrutiny. In 2017, the Justice Department required US companies that provide content, production services or air time to a pair of Russian outlets, RT and Radio Sputnik, to disclose information under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

In requiring those companies to register, the Justice Department cited the findings of US intelligence officials that RT and Radio Sputnik were “the backbone of the Russian government’s propaganda apparatus.”

Qatar is currently roiled in a dispute with other Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which accuse the country of supporting terrorism. Qatar denies the allegations. The Saudis have led a boycott against Qatar, suspending air travel to the nation. Since the dispute began, Qatar has hired 18 lobbying, public relations and law firms to press its case with policy makers, and those firms have registered as foreign agents, according to Justice Department records.

In their letter, the members of Congress cite the 2009 assessment of a US ambassador to Qatar who called Al Jazeera “one of Qatar’s most valuable political and diplomatic tools.” They also say that the network, which reaches 310 million people in more than 160 countries, has provided favourable coverage of groups designated as terrorist organizations by the State Department, including Hamas, Hezbollah and the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda.

The lawmakers also are asking the Justice Department to investigate reports that Al Jazeera infiltrated nonprofit organizations. Their letter calls its broadcasts “anti-American, anti-Semitic, and anti-Israel” and urges regulators to scrutinize the network to determine whether it violates US law.

If required to comply with the Foreign Agents Registration Act, Al Jazeera or its US contractors would have to disclose information on their corporate structure, budget, expenditures and personnel which would be posted on the Justice Department’s website. The network would still be able to distribute its content in the US.

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