Lawmakers Label Al-Jazeera A Foreign Agent Due to Israel Reporting

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Protest against Israel and AIPAC by the ANSWER Coalition

In Growing Crackdown on Foreign Media, Lawmakers Call for Al-Jazeera to Register As Foreign Agent Due to Its Investigative Reporting on Pro-Israel Lobbyists

A group of lawmakers are angry that an Al-Jazeera reporter partook in an undercover investigation of Israel lobbyists. As a result, they are calling on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to force the network to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). Such a move would clearly be a retaliatory act against investigative journalism.

As shocking as this move is, it follows a recent trend. Last November, RT was forced to register as a foreign agent. Defending Rights & Dissent criticized that move as a threat to press freedom. Since then there have been increasing attempts to force news outlets to register under FARA. The Department of Justice has demanded that Sputnik, which like RT receives funding from the Russian government, to register. Members of Congress have been pressuring the Department of Justice to force the Chinese funded news outlet Xinhua to register under FARA. China Daily’s distribution company is already registered under FARA, but there have been calls to amend FARA so that individual journalists with paper would have to register, as well.

FARA makes an exception for news outlets engaged in bona fide news or journalistic activities. As a result, state funded foreign media, such as the BBC, operate in the US without registering as foreign agents. Proponents of RT registering under FARA have argued that RT does not meet the requirements for the exception, as it isn’t sufficiently independent, and others have alleged that Chinese state funded media is engaged in intelligence operations. But this ignores how these calls are politically motivated.

The recent calls for Al-Jazeera to register demonstrate clearly how FARA can be abused for political purposes. Al-Jazeera is slated to release a four-part documentary about pro-Israel lobbyists in the US. One of the issues dealt with is a “covert campaign” against the Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS). As part of this investigation, Al-Jazeera used an undercover investigator and hidden cameras. According to Al-Jazeera, it “uncovered evidence, which suggests that this campaign may well involve these groups working with Israel to collect intelligence on and discredit U.S. citizens who support BDS, as well as others who are perceived as challenging Israel.”

It is impossible to separate the targeting of Al-Jazeera from the attacks on RT and Sputnik. Criticisms of RT and Sputnik as being “Russian propaganda” quickly devolved into blatant viewpoint discrimination. An Office of the Director of National Intelligence report on Russian interference in the election featured an annex that singled out RT for giving coverage to the Occupy Wall Street movement, violations of civil liberties, or the environmental impact of fracking. Senator Ben Cardin’s (D-MD) more recent report on Russian attacks on democracy said, “RT and Sputnik target a diverse audience: both far-right and far-left elements of Western societies, environmentalists, civil rights activists, and minorities.”

Proponents of forcing these media outlets to register under FARA claim doing so in no way impairs their ability to gather and disseminate information. But being labeled a foreign agent, as opposed to a bona fide media outlet, has ramifications. As a result of RT being forced to register as a foreign agent, they lost their Capitol Hill press credentials. And they report that staff has been quitting en masse. It is clear that being branded by the government a foreign agent not engaged in bona fide journalism carries serious stigma.

One of the hallmark principles of press freedom is the state cannot retaliate or stifle disfavored points of view. Politically motivated uses of FARA do just that.

  • Jan Chastain

    The continuing pressure by stoolies (Congress) of the Military Industrial Power, the 1%, etc, have drained government, and US journalism of its lifeblood. Lifeblood now includes the TRUTH told to the PEOPLE. An elderly retired teacher, public access producer, and businessperson, over the years I watched the guns go after the late Gary Webb, Mike Ruppert, and many, many more.

    Foreigners ask me down at the White House, how the American people can be so ignorant of what our government is doing. They say everybody around the world sees it. I reply, the MIC BOUGHT up the media, piece by piece. The Congress knows it. They just don’t have the wisdom or strength to buck it. With a compromised media bending our minds, it is mandatory to read foreign press. Also Pop. Resistance, Common Dreams, Project Censored, etc. can reveal other independent sources of journalism, through their guest writers listings. There is a choice, so let’s pick up the gauntlet and fling it back at the … . BTW, I don’t read the Wash. Post, New York Times as I have indoor plumbing. Ha and Ta.

  • Robert H. Stiver

    One has to credit the Israel-first zealots bending the knee to Zionism for their inventiveness and ballsyness. Imagine: in a sane, rational, moral, justice-oriented world, America would require *AIPAC* to register under FARA…but no, the crazies, the immoralists, the to-hell-with-justice Zioentity-loyalists demand that “true news” Al-Jazeera register! I’m not a compulsive fan of all of Al-Jazeera’s journalistic work, but it is a needed alternative. (I also regularly read and admire RT, Sputnik, PressTV….)

    I wish Chip Gibbons had identified all the members of the “group of lawmakers.” I note Israel-firster Cardin (Jewish, I’m sure); how many of the others are Jewish Israel-firsters, Zionists, zioneocons, dual loyalists, Israeli citizens, etc.?

    In the end, Palestine Is Still THE Issue! Justice for Palestine!

  • fjwhite

    First RT. Then Al-Jazeera. Who’s next to be silenced — The Real News Network for showing a speech by Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy about Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land?

  • larrysherk

    The window is closing for the United States to discover the high road and start making moral choices on everything from Palestine and Syria to North Korea. It will be vastly easier for us when we close our military bases and bring our service men and women home.

  • countup333

    Thanks for mentioning the omission of who exactly these lawmakers were . . . saved me the trouble!