Defense Bill Signed by Trump Requires Foreign Gov’t-Owned News Outlets to Report to FCC

By Patrick Goodenough | August 14, 2018 | 5:01 AM EDT

A group of lawmakers urged the DOJ earlier this year to look into whether the Qatar-government owned Al Jazeera network should be required to register as a 'foreign agent.' (Screen capture: YouTube)

(CNSNews.com) – The $716 billion defense bill signed into law by President Trump on Monday includes a provision that will require outlets like Qatar’s Al Jazeera for the first time to start reporting regularly on its funding and ownership.

The television network has long been in the crosshairs of conservatives in the United States. A bipartisan group of lawmakers pressed the Department of Justice last March to order Al Jazeera to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), citing “radical anti-American, anti-Semitic, and anti-Israel” content.

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2019 requires U.S.-based foreign media outlets to report to the FCC within 60 days – and then twice yearly thereafter – on their relationship to and funding by “foreign principals,” that is, foreign governments or political parties. The FCC must report the information to Congress and post it on its website.

Based in Doha, Al Jazeera is a subsidiary of the Qatar Media Corporation, which is owned by the government of the small Gulf state. Qatar is a purported U.S. ally but one whose foreign policies – including support for the Muslim Brotherhood and U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization Hamas – have drawn criticism from the U.S. and sparked a major rift with its Gulf neighbors.

The Middle East Forum, which advocated for the NDAA provision, on Monday welcomed its signing into law, noting that while it applies broadly to foreign-owned media “its passage results primarily from abuses by Al Jazeera.”

The Philadelphia-based non-profit noted that, in 2016, Al Jazeera (Al Jazeera America, Al Jazeera English and Al Jazeera Satellite Channel) had a considerably larger number of staff members accredited to the U.S. House and Senate press galleries than the New York Times and Washington Post. (Al Jazeera America closed in 2016.)

“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.”

In a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions last March, 19 Republican and Democratic lawmakers urged the Justice Department to look into whether Al Jazeera should be required to register as a “foreign agent” under FARA.

“We find it troubling that the content produced by this network often directly undermines American interests with favorable coverage of U.S. State Department-designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations, including Hamas, Hezbollah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria,” they wrote.

“Furthermore, Al Jazeera’s record of radical anti-American, anti-Semitic, and anti-Israel broadcasts warrants scrutiny from regulators to determine whether this network is in violation of U.S. law.”

“American citizens deserve to know whether the information and news media they consume is impartial, or if it is deceptive propaganda pushed by foreign nations,” the lawmakers argued.

The initiative was led by Reps. Lee Zeldin (R- N.Y.) and Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.). Other signatories included Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and members of the House Homeland Security Committee, Reps. Peter King (R—N.Y.) and John Ratcliffe (R-Texas).

Al Jazeera press office did not respond to queries about the implications of the NDAA provision by press time.

When the lawmakers pushed for FARA registration last March, Al Jazeera called the move “shocking.”

“Al Jazeera views such calls as a direct attempt to curtail media freedom and restrict journalists from carrying out their duties, a right enshrined in the constitution of the United States of America,” it said in a statement at the time. “This call comes at a time when attacks on journalists and media organizations around the world are at an all-time high.”

The network stated that since its establishment in 1996, it has “continued to maintain its editorial independence from any governmental institutions, Qatari or otherwise, and it steers away from any political or ideological agenda.”

‘Influence’

The FARA is a pre-World War II-era law requiring agents representing the interests of a foreign power to disclose their relationship as well as financial and other information.

According to the DOJ, “The purpose of FARA is to inform the American public of the activities of agents working for foreign principals to influence U.S. government officials or the American public with reference to the domestic or foreign policies of the United States, or with reference to the political or public interests, policies, or relations of a foreign country or a foreign political party.”

Not many media organizations are currently registered. Those that are include the English-language Chinese outlets, China Daily and People’s Daily Overseas Edition, the Korean broadcaster KBS, and Japanese broadcaster NHK Cosmomedia.

Last November the DOJ determined that RT America, the pro-Kremlin broadcaster previously known as Russia Today, register under the FARA.

(During the Cold War, the Soviet TASS news agency was registered under the legislation, from 1947 until 1992.)


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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow