Free press endangered by Foreign Agent Registration Act

Al Jazeera is the latest news outlet investigated under the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) for acting as a propaganda tool of a foreign country, Qatar in this case. Congressional legislators are concerned about Al Jazeera’s alleged anti-Semitic and anti-Israel content. The network is an important source of news in the Middle East and has earned eight Peabody Awards and a Polk award for the reporting of its English-language branch. The Justice Department forced RT to register as a foreign agent last year for acting as a propaganda arm of the Russian government for supporting government policy, promoting conspiracy theories and sowing division and mistrust in democracies. Critics of applying FARA to news outlets say it could be used to settle political disputes and curtail reporting on difficult issues for fear of being labeled a foreign agent. (Columbia Journalism Review, June 11, 2018, by Alexandra Ellerbeck and Avi Asher-Shapiro)

RT’s editor said she maintained RT’s independence but registered as a foreign agent to avoid criminal proceedings. Radio Sputnik, Japan’s Cosmomedia, the Korean Broadcasting System and the China Daily are all registered as foreign state propaganda arms. (, April 4, 2018, by Peter Van Buren)

Reporters Without Borders, March 19, 2018, warned about the dangers of government censorship and released this statement about the Justice Department investigation of Al Jazeera: “Governments should not be in the business of deciding what constitutes legitimate journalism, regardless of the influence that may be brought to bear on Al Jazeera’s editorial policies due to its connection to the Qatari government,” said Margaux Ewen, RSF’s North America Director. “Al Jazeera’s award-winning journalism contributes to media pluralism on a global scale, and reducing it to a Qatari government agency is irresponsible.”

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