Al Jazeera comes under scrutiny in the US

A new US law forcing foreign media outlets to disclose ownership and funding information was prompted by Al Jazeera’s ‘abuses,’ media analysts said. (AFP)
Updated 15 August 2018

Al Jazeera comes under scrutiny in the US

  • Controversial Qatari network will be forced to reveal funding and ownership details under new legislation
  • The revelation that Al Jazeera had 175 staff accredited to the US Senate and House of Representatives in 2016 rang alarm bells

LONDON: Qatari broadcast network Al Jazeera will be forced to disclose its ownership and the source of its funding under a new law passed in the US.
A clause in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which became law this week, requires foreign media outlets based in the US to reveal their relationship to foreign governments or political parties, and to report on the funding they receive from such “foreign principals.” The information must be submitted within 60 days and thereafter every six months.
The information is submitted to the US Congress and posted on the website of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), an independent government agency responsible for regulating the radio, television and telephone industries and all inter-state and international communications via wire, satellite and cable.
The new law is an indication of the growing mistrust with which the US, an ally of Doha, views the news channel because of Qatar’s support for groups which the US designates as terrorist organizations.
Both Republican and Democrat politicians have pressed the US Department of Justice to compel Al Jazeera to be registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) because of the station’s “radical anti-American” content. In March, 19 politicians wrote to Attorney-General Jeff Sessions citing their concerns.
“We find it troubling that the content produced by this network often directly undermines American interests with favorable coverage of US State Department-designated foreign terrorist organizations including Hamas, Hezbollah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Jabhat Al-Nusra, Al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria,” they wrote.
The Justice Department defines the purpose of the FARA law as “to inform the American public of the activities of agents working for foreign principals to influence US government officials or the American public with reference to the the domestic or foreign policies of the US.”
The Middle East Forum (MEF) think tank has also lobbied for closer scrutiny of Al Jazeera and welcomed the measure, which President Donald Trump signed into law on Monday.
Though the law applies to foreign media in general, the MEF said it was prompted “primarily from abuses by Al Jazeera,” which was described as “a political project masquerading in the guise of journalism.”
The revelation that, according to the Congressional Directory, Al Jazeera had 175 staff accredited to the US Senate and House of Representatives in 2016 rang alarm bells. In comparison, in the same year, The New York Times had 43 accredited correspondents and the Washington Post had 111.
“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.”
All Al Jazeera videos on YouTube already have to carry a disclaimer stating that the channel is entirely or partly funded by the Qatar government.
Al Jazeera did not respond to requests for a comment, but declared it was “shocked” when the 19 US politicians called for FARA registration and accused them of trying to curtail press freedom.
In a statement released at the time, the network insisted it followed no political agenda and maintained editorial independence “from any governmental institutions, Qatari or otherwise.”
If compelled to register under FARA, Al Jazeera would join China Daily and People’s Daily Overseas Edition (both English-language outlets), the Korean broadcaster KBS, Japanese broadcaster NHK Cosmomedia and — since last November — the pro-Kremlin network RT America, which was previously known as Russia Today.


Thailand suspends TV station over protests coverage

Updated 20 October 2020

Thailand suspends TV station over protests coverage

  • Thailand said on Monday that three other media organizations are under investigation
  • Protests have only gained momentum since the government announced a ban last Thursday and arrested dozens of protesters

BANGKOK: A Thai court on Tuesday ordered the suspension of an online TV station critical of the government, which has accused it of violating emergency measures aimed at ending three months of protests.
Voice TV had also been found to have breached the Computer Crime Act by uploading “false information,” digital ministry spokesman Putchapong Nodthaisong told reporters.
Thailand has drawn criticism from rights groups for banning demonstrations and the publication of news seen as damaging by the government as it tries to end the protests against Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and the powerful monarchy.
Rittikorn Mahakhachabhorn, Editor-in-Chief of Voice TV, said it would continue broadcasting until the court order arrived.
“We insist that we have been operating based on journalistic principles and we will continue our work presently,” he said.
Thailand said on Monday that three other media organizations are under investigation.
Voice TV is owned in part by the Shinawatra family of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his sister Yingluck, who was overthrown by Prayuth in a 2014 coup. Both fled Thailand to escape corruption cases they branded political.
Street protests since mid-July are the biggest challenge in decades to the monarchy under King Maha Vajiralongkorn and to Prayuth, who rejects accusations of engineering an election last year to keep power.
The demonstrations have been largely led by youths and students in contrast with a decade of street violence between supporters of Thaksin and conservative royalists before Prayuth seized power.
Protests have only gained momentum since the government announced a ban last Thursday and arrested dozens of protesters, including many of the main leaders.
A lawyer for two of them, Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak and Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul, said they would be arrested again on Tuesday as soon as they had been freed on bail granted by a court over earlier charges related to the protests.
Prime Minister Prayuth has said he will not quit in the face of the protests.
His cabinet agreed on Tuesday to hold an emergency session of parliament next week about the crisis. Prayuth’s supporters hold a majority in the parliament, whose upper house was named entirely by his former junta.