Al Jazeera English, the international spinoff of the Qatar-based Arabic-language news network of the same name, will likely be cleared for Canadian broadcasting this summer following months of debate and opposition.
The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) recently finished considering the application in a process, which included reviewing public comments, protests from Jewish groups and meetings between the network and its opponents to work through concerns about its programming.
The Al Jazeera Arabic network has been accused of being pro-Hamas and of airing anti-Semitic content and incitement.
"Al-Jazeera has broadcast pre-recorded videos or interviews with extremists, who proclaim that Jews are pigs born of monkeys, that Christians in the Muslim world are the fruit of the Crusades and must be punished and that violent jihad is the path to paradise," wrote Madeleine El-Sayegh of Nepean, Ontario in a comment explaining her opposition to the application.
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell has noted that Al-Jazeera "takes every opportunity to slant the news and present it in the most outrageous way possible" deliberately "for the purpose of inflaming the world and appealing to the basest instincts."
Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC) Director Bernie Farber accused the Al Jazeera Arabic channel of propagating “clear outright anti-Semitic Holocaust denial.” He expressed concerns about its link to the English network, questioned their independence given that the Qatar government owns both stations, and asked for assurances the English version would be different.
Farber said that some fears were alleviated by a proposed consultation committee including the CJC and B’nai Brith Canada to discuss the network's on-air content every six months. "That brought us some lessening of our angst, but we still remain concerned and vigilant," he said in an interview with Canadian media.
Al Jazeera English Managing Director Tony Burman stressed that his channel is separate from its Arabic counterpart, despite the fact they are both part of the same company and share resources and a brand name. He said the English network serves a global audience while the Arabic version is aimed at an Arabic audience primarily in the Middle East.
The CRTC has not released a date for its decision, but Burman said he expects the channel to be available in Canada by the fall when it sets up a bureau.
CRTC chairman Charles Dalfen acknowledged that some of the material reviewed at commission hearings held Jews up to "hatred and contempt on the basis of religion." Examples include:
--An interview with a mufti who said "there can be no peace with the Jews because they suck and use the blood of Arabs on the holiday [sic] of Passover and Purim."
--An e-mail read on the Al-Jazeera program “The Opposite Direction” that "[Jews are] the descendants of apes and pigs [who] will not be deterred unless there is a true Holocaust that will exterminate all of them at once."
--An interview with Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, who is not allowed on any station now available in Canada.
"Al-Jazeera is a station which has a history of allowing the distribution of materials that are contrary to our Canadian laws and Charter,” said Montreal Member of Parliament Jacques Saada. Toronto MP Art Eggleton added, "The hatred spoken over the airwaves by Al-Jazeera could well contravene Canada's hate laws."
Currently available in Canada only on the Internet or though satellite signals pulled in from the United States, Al Jazeera English was launched in 2006. This week, the network is getting picked up by cable carriers in the Washington, D.C. as part of its North American growth, which officials credit to decisions made by the Obama administration.