The Al Jazeera news network is running afoul of U.S. laws mandating it disclose its ties to the Qatari royal family, which has for years used the network to further Doha’s political interests in America, according to a new report by a former member of Congress.
Former representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who served in Congress for 30 years and chaired the House Foreign Affairs Committee from 2011-2013, issued a report on Tuesday accusing Al Jazeera of operating as an undisclosed agent of the Qatari government, in violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), which requires those working for foreign governments to publicly report their activities. Ros-Lehtinen is now a lobbyist with Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP and was retained by the United Arab Emirates, a chief regional opponent of Qatar, to conduct the probe into Al Jazeera.
The report, which has been endorsed by the UAE, accuses Qatar and Al Jazeera of violating FARA laws by operating under the guise of an independent news organization. While Al Jazeera is largely funded by the Qatari government, the outlet maintains that it has editorial independence and is therefore not subject to FARA disclosure.
Still, prominent members of Congress have petitioned the Department of Justice to launch a full-scale investigation into Al Jazeera’s activities to determine if it is in violation of disclosure laws. Ros-Lehtinen issued such calls during her time in Congress, where she raised the issue of Qatar’s influence operations in America. In recent years, Qatar has emerged as a flashpoint in U.S. politics due to its infiltration of the U.S. public education system and other key American institutions. The country’s critics allege that Qatar spends billions to peddle influence in the United States and sway public opinion, often without disclosing these activities. Al Jazeera drew congressional ire in 2018 when it was implicated in a massive spy effort targeting prominent Jewish and pro-Israel individuals in Washington, D.C.
Sources who spoke to the Washington Free Beacon indicated that Congress could be moving on the issue in the coming weeks.
"The United States needs to take a hard look at its relationship with Qatar and to compel Al Jazeera—the media network that is owned, funded, directed, and controlled by the Qatari government—to register with the Department of Justice under the Foreign Agents Registration Act," Ros-Lehtinen wrote in the report, a copy of which was provided exclusively to the Free Beacon.
The former lawmaker maintains the DOJ must require Al Jazeera to register under FARA, as it has done with other foreign news outlets, such as those controlled by Russia and China.
The report makes the case that Qatar "owns, funds, directs, and controls" Al Jazeera, which the country allegedly uses to further its own foreign policy agenda. Al Jazeera’s board of directors is chaired by a member of the Qatari ruling family, who exerts control over the network, according to the report. Because of this, the report says, Al Jazeera cannot maintain independence from the government and, thus, falls under the criteria necessary for FARA registration.
The report raises further questions about Qatar’s regional objectives, particularly its increasingly close relationship with Iran and terror forces operating in the region. Critics of the news outlet view it as supporting these objectives through its selected coverage and opinion sections.
Al Jazeera said through a spokesman that the network is not under the Qatari government’s control, citing 2011 efforts to convert Al Jazeera Media Network into a standalone entity that is structured similarly to a U.S. nonprofit. The spokesperson further said that Al Jazeera’s editorial independence has been formalized under laws instituted by Qatar. The network is currently registered as a "private foundation for public benefit" under Qatari law, a move meant to ensure its independent status.
"These erroneous claims and tired, false narratives are a continuation of the aggressive lobbying, public relations, and online disinformation campaigns orchestrated by the United Arab Emirates," the outlet said in a statement.
Al Jazeera said it is being used as fodder in a larger proxy war between the UAE and Qatar, which has been locked in a dispute with that country and other regional players like Saudi Arabia. As part of a regional blockade on Qatar, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and others demanded that Al Jazeera be shuttered.
"Unsuccessful in these attempts, the UAE is now attempting to accomplish the objectives of the blockade through other means, including weaponizing U.S. laws improperly," the spokesman said.
Al Jazeera employs hundreds of people in the United States and maintains multiple websites aimed at an American audience, including AJ+, Al Jazeera English, and Al Jazeera Arabic.
While the company maintains that it is not instructed on what it can and cannot cover, Ros-Lehtinen’s report paints a different picture.
Using publicly available evidence and congressional testimony compiled over the years, the report alleges that Al Jazeera is completely subservient to Qatar’s ruling regime.
The report alleges that Qatar uses Al Jazeera to advance its foreign policy interests, citing former employees who have claimed the network is used to "make the case for Qatar’s view of the region and the wider world."
It also points to Al Jazeera's coverage of Iran, which has been critical of U.S. policies and generally supportive of the Islamic Republic's regional ambitions.
In a 2020 report on Qatar, the U.S. Congressional Research Service stated that Qatar "owns and subsidizes" Al Jazeera. The State Department has also maintained in its annual country reports that "the government [has] owned and partially funded the Doha-based Al-Jazeera."
Ros-Lehtinen said her report provides DOJ with enough evidence to compel Al Jazeera’s inclusion into FARA.
"I cannot sit by while the Qatari regime’s role is cloaked by a media conglomerate wholly owned by a foreign government," she wrote in the report. "The U.S. public reads, hears, and sees Al Jazeera stories and content every day, and Americans deserve to know that this organization serves as an agent for—and is owned, funded, directed, and controlled by—the government of Qatar."
Update 7:-4 p.m.: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Al Jazeera operates under Qatar Media Corporation.