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Turkish news network TRT registers as foreign agent in US

Registration requires news outlets to share information about budgets and staffing with US government
Erdogan attending 39th TRT International Children's Festival in Ankara, 20 April 2017 (AFP/File photo)

Turkish state broadcaster TRT has registered as a foreign agent in the United States, becoming the latest foreign government-linked news outlet to be listed under the same registration as lobbyists and PR firms working for foreign governments. 

In a filing dated 12 March and first reported by Al Monitor on Tuesday, the network, which has offices in Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States, says it is involved in "the preparation and dissemination of informational materials through the TRT World Channel".

The document lists TRT's Washington bureau chief, Tuncay Yurekli, as the only agent at the network.

TRT, which says it has a global presence and reaches 80 percent of countries around the world, said in the filing that its journalism does not differ from the work of other news outlets.

"Turkish Radio-Television Corporation performs news gathering and reporting activities like those performed by other news and broadcast organizations that are not controlled by foreign governments - Turkish Radio-Television Corporation engages a team of highly qualified professional journalists, editors and producers who are responsible for producing certain TRT World programs," the filing reads.

The network often provides rosy coverage of the Turkish government and has earned the praise of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but it also covers news from around the world, including the US.

The Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA), which was passed during the Second World War to counter Nazi propaganda, requires lobbyists and PR firms working for foreign governments to disclose their activities with the Justice Department. 

Push to disclose foreign agents

In recent years, there has been a push to get publicly funded foreign outlets to register under FARA. In 2017, Russia's RT registered as a foreign agent after mounting anger over Moscow's alleged interference in US elections. 

Being registered as a foreign agent requires news outlets to share information about their budgets and staffing with the US government.

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The Qatari-funded Al Jazeera network has also faced calls to register under FARA. Republican Senator Ted Cruz repeatedly led calls to force the network to be listed as a foreign agent over the past three years.

But free press advocates have rejected the push to cast US-based journalists as foreign agents. 

Alexandra Ellerbeck, North America programme coordinator at the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a New York-based watchdog, told MEE in 2018 after a push by Cruz to list Al Jazeera under FARA that the efforts against the network were "troubling".

"The calls to use FARA against media companies have been incredibly inconsistent, and we're always uncomfortable with the government being able to decide what is journalism and what is propaganda," Ellerbeck said at the time.

"When you apply that into a context where it seems that policymakers are cherry-picking individual cases - often with little rhyme or reason - I think that's concerning, and it also sets a bad example globally."