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Al Jazeera, among other foreign news outlets, targeted under new defense bill

Section 1085 of the “John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for 2019” would require any “United States-based foreign media outlet” to report its financing details to the FCC.

The Al Jazeera English newsroom. (Wikimedia Commons)
The Al Jazeera English newsroom. (Wikimedia Commons)

Part of the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) signed on Monday by U.S. President Donald Trump includes a provision requiring foreign media outlets like Al Jazeera to register with the U.S. government.

Section 1085 of the “John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for 2019” would require any “United States-based foreign media outlet” to report its financing details to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), including a description of the outlet’s relationship to the foreign entity that contains both their legal and funding structure.

This specific measure would amend the Telecommunications Act of 1934.

The reports from the outlets would be made available on the FCC’s website. Additionally, the FCC would summarize these reports to Congress every six months.

The bill defines a “United States-based foreign media outlet” as one that “produces or distributes video programming … that is transmitted, or intended for transmission, by a multichannel video programming distributor [as defined in such section] to consumers in the United States.” Hence, they do not have to be physically based in the United States; they only have to be broadcasting to an American audience.

Another qualification of what is a “United States-based foreign media outlet” is one that “would be an agent of a foreign principal for purposes of the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938,” or FARA.

FARA mandates that foreign agents register with the Justice Department. It exempts news outlets that feature content “solely by virtue of any bona fide news or journalistic activities.” The U.S. government determined that Russia Today, or RT television news, and Radio Sputnik do not meet that standard; therefore, it required those outlets to register under FARA after the 2016 election.

The Middle East Forum, a conservative think tank, commended the inclusion of the provision compelling greater transparency by foreign-owned media outlets like Al Jazeera in the NDAA.

“As Qatar is locked in a bitter dispute with several of America’s regional allies, the American people need to know in detail about the activities of its media arm,” said Daniel Pipes, president of the Middle East Forum, in a statement.

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