The decision of the United States Department of Justice to order Al Jazeera’s U.S. affiliate AJ+ to register as a foreign agent is a major affront to press freedom, the International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for press freedom, said today.

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) in a letter dated September 14, asked AJ+, an affiliate of Al Jazeera Media Network which produces journalistic content in English, Arabic, French and Spanish, to register as a foreign agent under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. It said that the channel had engaged in “political activities” on behalf of Qatar’s government.

“Over the past decades, Al Jazeera news channels have gained a reputation for producing quality, independent, fact-based journalistic content, which has won several awards and is of unique value to the Arab region and the entire world”, IPI Executive Director Barbara Trionfi said. “The decision of the U.S. government to classify AJ+ as a ‘foreign agent’ greatly undermines the credibility and respect that the news organisation enjoys, which in turn represents a threat not only to media diversity in the U.S. but also to any journalist working for the news organisation.”

“It is not the role of any government to decide what constitutes independent journalism, and the U.S. DOJ is setting a dangerous precedent in doing so”, Trionfi added.

Al Jazeera has received multiple awards for its programmes. In 2018 it won an Emmy Award for its programme ‘Fault Lines’ and a Peabody Award for a documentary ‘The Cut’, and in 2019 Al Jazeera ‘Fault Lines’ programme received another Emmy award in the category of ‘Outstanding Investigative Report in a Newsmagazine’ for its film ‘Adoption Inc’. The channel also won 18 gold medals at the New York Festivals and was named ‘Broadcaster of the Year’ for the third consecutive year.

“With its high-quality journalism, AJ+ has been a breath of fresh air. It is a shame that the country that has been a beacon of freedom of the press has leaders that are willing to trade away this democratic value as a political bribe to a non-democratic Arab gulf country to continue its senseless conflict with a fellow gulf country”, IPI Executive Committee Vice Chair, Daoud Kuttab said.

According to media reports, the designation of Al Jazeera as a foreign agent is an outcome of years of lobbying by the United Arab Emirates government that is unhappy with Channel’s critical coverage. As many as three letters were sent by Republican members of the US Congress since 2018 asking the DOJ to declare Al Jazeera a foreign agent.

The announcement of the DOJ designating AJ+ coincided with the signing of agreements between the UAE, Bahrain and Israeli at the White House to normalize their relations.