Republican congressmen are hoping that a new law that requires financial disclosure by Russian media outlets in the US will force Qatari media to uncover their sources of funding.
The Daily Beast website reported that a number of Republican congressmen have been targeting Al Jazeera English for nearly a year “over allegations that it is used to propagandize on behalf of US-designated terrorist groups and surreptitiously promotes the interests of its Qatari government patrons.”
Al Jazeera vehemently denies both charges.
The outlet may nonetheless find itself ensnared in a new law requiring foreign-owned US television news broadcasters to file periodic reports with the Federal Communications Commission disclosing some information about the financial and operational control exerted over those broadcasters by parent companies abroad, explained the Daily Beast.
The measure was tucked into a Pentagon spending bill last year by Republican Representative Elise Stefanik and Democrat Seth Moulton, both members of the House Armed Services Committee, and incorporated language from a stand-alone bill that they introduced in March 2018, it reported.
“We can’t be blindsided by another outlet like Russia Today spreading propaganda that undermines our democracy,” Moulton said in a statement at the time.
Both members promoted that measure as a means to counter Russian disinformation efforts by way of US broadcasters, including Russia Today and Sputnik, but the version that made it into law is far more expansive.
“Any media outlet owned, controlled, substantially funded, or principally advancing the interests of a foreign government must register with the FCC under the new rules. The new FCC registration requirement adopts much of the same language as FARA in defining who must register,” said the Daily Beast.
And some congressional Republicans hope that that new authority will be used to shed some light of Al Jazeera’s operations and its ties to the Qatari government.
A spokesperson for Republican Representative Lee Zeldin, one of a number of House Republicans who have pressed for more federal oversight of Al Jazeera in particular, said he welcomes any effort to force additional disclosure about the channel’s relationship with the Doha government, reported the Daily Beast.
“The Qataris also run other outlets like Middle East Eye, digital platforms, etc,” the aide told The Daily Beast.
“Some are US-based, some just transmit here, some publish overseas and get bounced into Twitter and Facebook by bots. If they were paying lobbyists to do it they'd have to register under FARA and log all their activities, so we'd have transparency into how they're targeting Americans. But since it's their own media, the network and their influence are opaque.”
To date, no Qatari media outlet has registered with the FCC under the new disclosure rules. Neither has any Russian outlet. Just two broadcasters have done so: Anadolu Agency, a privately owned Turkish news agency; and MHz News LLC, a US-based outlet that broadcasts French and German programming in the US.