March 15, 2018 - Updated on March 19, 2018

US - RSF concerned by calls for Al Jazeera to register as “foreign agent”

RSF urges the Department of Justice to dismiss calls made by members of the United States Congress to investigate Qatar-based news outlet Al Jazeera for registration under the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA). It is not the responsibility of a government to vet the editorial decisions of a media outlet, and this type of governmental interference could lead to censorship.​​​

On March 6, Senator Ted Cruz and 18 other members of Congress sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions urging the Department of Justice to investigate Al Jazeera, a news outlet funded by the Qatari government, and clarify whether the news outlet should be required to register under FARA. The letter expressed concern that Al Jazeera content undermines American interests and is a threat to national security, referring to its “favorable coverage” of State Department-designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations and its “radical anti-American, anti-Semitic, and anti-Israel broadcasts” as reasons to investigate the news outlet. Al Jazeera denied these claims in a response to Congress’ letter, saying a British communications regulator had already investigated and dismissed all such charges against their outlet.

“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.”

Congress’ letter is in response to a decision the Justice Department made in August that RT America, a Kremlin-funded media organization based in Washington DC, register as a foreign agent under FARA. The law is used to keep track of foreign influence on politicians in the United States. Following RT’s designation, Russia’s justice ministry declared that US-owned news outlets including Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Free Liberty and seven affiliated media organizations, were considered “foreign agents” in Russia. At the time, RSF expressed concerns then that the move would only further restrict access to information in Russia at a time when unprecedented pressure is being placed on Russian media.

The United States ranks 43rd out of 180 countries in RSF's 2017 World Press Freedom Index after falling 2 places in the last year.