OTTAWA - Canada's broadcast regulator has approved Qatar-based news channel
al-Jazeera for the country's digital cable TV market, but with censorship rules
that are so stringent it is unlikely to be carried in this country, say television
Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) approved al-Jazeera
for digital distribution last week, but accepted demands from Jewish groups
that the network be censored for anti-Israel and anti-Jewish comment.
The CRTC's conditions "guarantee al-Jazeera would lose money in Canada,"
says Michael Hennessey, president of the Canadian Cable Television Association,
which represents the country's five large cable TV companies and several smaller
The CRTC said distributors of the al-Jazeera signal in Canada would have to
monitor the network for "abusive comment" 24 hours a day, and "alter
or curtail" programming deemed to be offensive, although it did not define
Some companies applied to the CRTC for a license to carry the network, but
did not offer to censor it.
Launched in 1996, al-Jazeera came to prominence in the West with graphic street-level
coverage of U.S. military attacks on Afghanistan after Washington launched its
"war on terrorism" following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks
on New York and the Pentagon.
Recently, it has angered U.S. officials for broadcasting the bloody aftermath
of coalition attacks in occupied Iraq.
Digital television reaches just one million Canadian homes, and subscribers
decide whether they want stations. Most are likely to refuse al-Jazeera because
it broadcasts in Arabic. There are about 500,000 Arabic-speaking people in Canada,
according to the last national census.
The network is available uncensored in the neighboring United States and Israel,
but is under increasing pressure in Islamic countries. The government of Qatar,
which owns al-Jazeera, says it gets about 400 official complaints each year
from Islamic countries saying the network shows bias toward Israel and the United
Al-Jazeera has "a view permeated with hateful messaging and vile, anti-Semitic
imagery and themes that should offend a Canadian public that values tolerance
and respectful diversity," says Frank Dimant, executive vice-president
of B'nai Brith Canada.
The network is considered "the mouthpiece for the terrorist al-Qaeda organization
[and] also offers its viewing audience sympathetic portrayals of terrorist bombers,"
he told journalists.
B'nai Brith was one of the Jewish groups that successfully argued for censorship
of the network.
But Mohamed Elmasry, national president of the Canadian
Islamic Congress, said the decision "is just a cowardly way of keeping
al-Jazeera off the air."
"The CRTC knows that none of the cable companies will pay to have people
watching al-Jazeera 24 hours a day and censoring it. They didn't have the courage
to turn al-Jazeera down, so they placed restrictions on it that are so onerous
and unfair that none of the cable companies will carry it," added Elmasry.
Last week's decision is the first time the CRTC has imposed censorship rules
on a television station.
Ofir Gendelman, a senior official with the Israeli embassy here, said it is
"absolutely true" that his country's citizens can get unfettered access
to the 24-hour-a-day Qatar-based station.
"We know there's anti-Semitic content on al-Jazeera and that sometimes
it has been a powerful incitement to suicide bombings," Gendelman said.
But "we cannot block people from receiving it."
Canadians can receive al-Jazeera uncensored from U.S. satellite companies through
"grey market" systems that are illegal here. Individuals are rarely
charged with a crime for having such a system, although there is a large market
in Canada for HBO, Fox News, MTV and other networks that are not approved for
cable TV distribution.
Omar Alghabra, president of the Canadian Arab Federation, says he is "somewhat
bewildered" by Canada's hard line. Al-Jazeera is seen throughout the Arabic-speaking
world, Israel and the occupied territories without censorship but is deemed
to be "too dangerous to show in Canada," he adds.
"People in Israel are accustomed to seeing the narrative toward supporting
Arab nationalism that is at the heart of al-Jazeera's programming," Alghabra
told IPS. "But this narrative is absent from here."
(Inter Press Service)