Al Jazeera has dismissed calls from members of the US Congress to be registered as a foreign agent under American law. A bipartisan group of lawmakers urged Attorney General Jeff Sessions to have the Qatari news agency registered under the act which would place severe restrictions on the agency's ability to broadcast freely.
In their letter to Session, Democrat representative Josh Gottheimer and Lee Zeldin, a New York Republican; and 16 other House members alleged that Al Jazeera "directly undermines American interests." Senator Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, also signed the letter. The lawmakers added that the State Department has determined the news organisation, which is headquartered in Qatar, is state controlled.
In its statement rebutting the claims yesterday, Al Jazeera said: "It is shocking to hear calls being made by a number of US lawmakers to register Al Jazeera as a foreign agent under the Foreign Agent Registration Act." The statement cited the network's achievements since its founding in 1996. Al Jazeera "has provided multi-award winning news coverage and current affairs programmes for more than 21 years" the statement added.
Calls from the US lawmakers to have Al Jazeera registered under the Foreign Agent Registration Act, or FARA as its known, will mark another shift towards suppression on freedom of speech, a right guaranteed under the First Amendment of the US Constitution, the news organisation pointed out.
Over the past few months, news agencies from Russia and China were required to register under the FARA act. But the decision to extend this demand to a Qatari news agency is not so clear as relations between the US government and Doha are nothing like those with Moscow and Beijing.
Since the blockade was launched against Qatar by its Arab neighbours – which included demands for Qatar to close down Al Jazeera – senior figures within the US have emphasised the close ties between the two countries. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's support for the Qataris has even been discovered to be the reason behind a campaign by the UAE to have him fired by President Donald Trump.
Al Jazeera ended its remarks saying: "We urge democratic forces all over the world, especially in United States, to stand with free media institutions to promote and protect the values of democracy, liberty, human rights, freedom of media and the right to free speech."
"Don't shoot the messenger, journalism is not a crime."