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Republican lawmakers call for suspension of Al Jazeera's media credentials

Congressmen call for Al Jazeera to register as a foreign agent
The US Capitol Dome on 21 September 2022 (AFP)

A group of Republican congressman have called for Al Jazeera’s Capitol Hill media credentials to be suspended until the organisation registers as a foreign agent.

A letter signed by Congressmen Jack Bergman, Alex Mooney and Michael Waltz was sent to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries and leaders of the House Administration Committee on Tuesday, asking for Al Jazeera’s credentials to be suspended.

"We are writing to request the immediate suspension of press credentials for the Al Jazeera Media Network (AJMN), and for that suspension to remain in place until the State of Qatar and its propaganda arm agree to adhere to the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA),” the letter stated.

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President Joe Biden designated Qatar a major non-Nato ally in January 2022. Qatar’s international heft has swelled as western powers scramble to replace Russian gas. Qatar is one of the world’s largest producers of LNG and has struck supply agreements with European powers including Germany.

More recently, the Gulf monarchy of about 3 million has become embroiled in a scandal at the EU parliament. Investigators claim Doha, along with Morocco, tried to bribe EU legislators to influence foreign policy. One of the allegations is that Qatar sought to tone down criticism of human rights issues in the country before the World Cup. Qatar has denied the allegations.

The lawmakers said Qatar had “an alarming penchant for spying on journalists, its supposed 'enemies' in the soccer world, and US political leaders”.

The letter specifically cites a congressional letter from March 2018 that recommends an investigation "should cover the full range of activities undertaken by Al Jazeera in the United States, including reports that it infiltrated American 50l(c)(3) and (c)(4) nonprofit organizations”.

Influence tool 

The letter mainly focused on an October 2022 Associated Press report that said Qatar hired a former CIA officer to conduct a covert influence operation to damage the reputations of former US intelligence officials and surveil a US congressman. 

“We have no reason to doubt that most of Al Jazeera’s credentialed journalists in the Congressional galleries are legitimate reporters, but that is not the issue,” the letter stated.

"If Qatar is so brazen as to target the former acting head of the Central Intelligence Agency…. there should be little doubt that Qatar would not hesitate to use Al Jazeera as a tool for influencing US policy or for conducting surveillance operations targeting Congress,” the letter added.

The letter also takes aim at some of Al Jazeera’s journalism, specifically the use of "hidden cameras" for an upcoming documentary on pro-Israeli groups and activists in the US.

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The US Justice Department has ordered state-funded media groups to register as foreign agents in the past. In 2018, the US affiliates of Russian outlets, RT and Sputnik, were registered; and Turkish state broadcaster TRT registered amid orders from the department of justice in 2020.

The move lists news networks under the same registration as lobbyists and PR firms working for foreign governments. Outlets are not restricted in what they can publish but are required to share information about their budgets and staffing with the US government. It can also limit the access news networks have to lawmakers.

Calls for foreign, state-funded media outlets to register have grown among bipartisan corners in Washington recently, but have also prompted concerns over press freedom.

Congressmen Jack Bergman, one of the co-authors, is a noted critic of Qatar. In 2021, he co-authored a letter to Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken asking for arms sales to Qatar to be reviewed over their ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas.

Michael Waltz, another co-author, is also active on Middle East issues. He previously called for the US to extricate itself from Saudi Arabia’s war efforts in Yemen. He has also called for the Biden administration to re-designate the Houthis a terrorist organisation.

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