Justice Department Orders Al Jazeera Affiliate to Register as a Foreign Agent of Qatar: Reports

September 16, 2020 Updated: September 16, 2020

The Justice Department (DOJ) has designated a U.S.-based news network affiliated to Al Jazeera as a foreign agent of the government of Qatar and has ordered it to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), according to reports.

In a letter obtained by several media outlets, a senior DOJ national security official told the Qatari state-owned broadcaster that it had determined that its affiliate AJ+ is engaged in political activities within the United States and acts “as a publicity agent within the United States, on behalf of the Government of Qatar and Al Jazeera Media Network.”

“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, even if it views itself as ‘balanced,'” the letter signed by Jay Bratt, chief of the counterintelligence and export control section in the DOJ’s national security division, said.

DOJ spokesperson Marc Raimondi said in a statement to The Epoch Times that the department “cannot confirm or deny the existence of such a letter. I can tell you that the FARA Unit’s enforcement activities are based on following the facts where they lead and the applicable law.”

Al Jazeera is based in Doha, Qatar, and says they are funded in part by the Qatari government. Its network includes multi-language websites, satellite, and digital channels. Al Jazeera America, a cable news channel, shut its operations in 2016 citing “economic challenges in the U.S. media marketplace.” AJ+ is one of Al Jazeera’s networks that primarily produces online and social media content and videos. Its English office is headquartered in Washington.

The DOJ letter argues that AJ+ publishes articles that invite their audience to question “what conduct constitutes terrorism; demonstrate a disdain for the term ‘Islamist Terror’; adopt a positive view of Iran; show support for the Palestinian cause and question U.S. support for Israel; reflect a critical position on the war in Yemen; and a Qatari-sympathetic view of the Saudi Arabian-led embargo against Qatar.”

Al Jazeera said the DOJ’s move had helped the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which has severed diplomatic relations with Qatar, accomplish its goal of blocking the news outlet and Qatar. The letter was sent to Al Jazeera the day before UAE signed a diplomatic deal with Israel, which was brokered by the United States. A spokesperson for the news outlet suggested that the two events may be linked, without providing evidence.

“The U.A.E. has confirmed it presented the United States with preconditions prior to announcing the Abraham Accords, and we received D.O.J.’s letter the day before the U.A.E. signed the Accords,” the spokesperson said in a statement to media outlets. “Hobbling Al Jazeera was one of the top conditions of the UAE’s blockade against Qatar and the Justice Department just gave the UAE what it wanted.”

“We are deeply disappointed by the Department’s decision, which runs counter to the extensive factual record we provided demonstrating that FARA registration is not applicable to AJ+. The legal structure, editorial structure, editorial policies, budgeting process, and content of AJ+ clearly demonstrate its independence. We are reviewing the determination and considering our options,” the spokesperson also said.

Al Jazeera’s press office did not immediately respond to The Epoch Times’ request for comment.

UAE’s ambassador the United States Yousef al Otaiba denied the claim to The New York Times, saying that Al Jazeera or Qatar was at no point part of the discussion of the deal.

In 2017, Arab powers UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Egypt, cut ties with Qatar, accusing the tiny peninsular nation of “financing, adopting and sheltering extremists.” They were later joined by other countries such as Yemen, Libya’s eastern-based government, and the Maldives amid the deepening rift.

A Qatar official on Monday also ruled out that it would join its neighbors in establishing diplomatic relations with Israel until its conflict with the Palestinians is resolved.

FARA, which was enacted in 1938, requires agents of foreign governments and entitles who are engaged in political activities or other activities on behalf of the foreign entity to disclose their relationship and the details of the activities.

The DOJ in recent years has ordered several state-backed outlets to register as foreign agents under FARA. Some of these outlets include Kremlin-backed Russia Today, Sputnik, and RM Broadcasting, and Turkey-backed Turkish Radio and Television Corporation. Similarly, five Chinese state-run media were designated as foreign missions earlier this year: Xinhua News Agency; China Global Television Network which falls under China Central Television, CCTV; China Radio International; China Daily Distribution Corporation; and Hai Tian Development USA, which is the distributor for the People’s Daily here in the United States.

DOJ’s move comes amid calls by lawmakers who have been urging the department to take steps to force AJ+ to register as a foreign agent. The most recent letter was led by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) and joined by Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) as well as Reps. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), Brian Mast (R-Fla.), Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), Peter King (R-N.Y.), Jack Bergman (R-Mich.), and Ann Wagner (R-Mo.).

“As a media outlet funded and directed by a foreign sovereign, Al Jazeera is undeniably subject to this FCC registration requirement,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter (pdf). The lawmakers wrote similar letters in 2018 and 2019.

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