DOJ pressed to enforce Al Jazeera foreign agent ruling
The Justice Department is being pressed to enforce its own demand that the U.S. arm of Qatari broadcaster Al Jazeera register as a foreign agent.
Why it matters: The launch of Al Jazeera's new right-of-center U.S. media venture, Rightly, has refocused attention on the media company's alleged links to Doha, and DOJ's efforts to crack down on media outlets viewed as foreign interest mouthpieces.
- Al Jazeera has portrayed the DOJ's action against its U.S. subsidiary as a concession to regional rivals such as the United Arab Emirates, raising questions about whether the network might experience a reversal of fortune if the Biden administration shifts course in the Middle East.
What's new: The Lawfare Project, a legal advocacy group that combats anti-Semitism in the U.S., sent a letter to the DOJ last week flagging "a potential violation of federal law" by Rightly and Al Jazeera subsidiary AJ+.
- In September, the DOJ determined AJ+ acts "at the direction and control” of the Qatari government and hence must register as a foreign agent.
- Rightly is bound by the same registration requirements, Lawfare Project senior counsel Gerard Filitti argued.
- "This new media platform is nothing more than the latest attempt by Qatar to subvert American law and orchestrate a non-transparent and pernicious influence operation to affect and influence American politics and society," he wrote.
Background: The DOJ's foreign agent determination required AJ+ to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act within 30 days. It has yet to do so.
- The company maintains no such registration is required, and DOJ's decision was politically motivated.
- "Al Jazeera Media Network is a Private Foundation for Public Benefit under Qatari law; it is not owned by Qatar, and its content is not directed or controlled by the Qatari government nor does it reflect any government viewpoint,” a spokesperson told Axios Tuesday in an emailed statement.
- A DOJ spokesperson declined to comment on AJ+'s FARA registration status.
Between the lines: Al Jazeera has long been the target of Qatar's Gulf rivals, which portray the news outlet as a propaganda organ for the country's ruling family.
- U.S. lawmakers have also targeted Al Jazeera, saying, in one bipartisan congressional letter to the DOJ, that its U.S. broadcasting "directly undermines American interests."
- Such criticism has made the fight over Al Jazeera's FARA registration a proxy battle over larger geopolitical fights.
- When the company received the DOJ's determination letter last year, it accused the department of doing the bidding of Qatar's adversaries in the UAE.
The bottom line: Unless the DOJ rescinds its registration demand, AJ+ is still obligated to begin filing the necessary foreign-agent disclosures.
- The financial and operational information it would be required to disclose under FARA would likely subject the company to further scrutiny by its critics in the U.S. and abroad.