An excerpt from the release:
Reporters Without Borders has protested at persistent harassment of Arabic-language satellite TV al-Jazeera as the channel said on 26 January Saudi Arabia had refused to allow it to cover the Mecca pilgrimage for a third consecutive year.
Since the start of 2004, al-Jazeera has been harshly criticised by Saudi Arabia and the United States, has been censored in Algeria, Iran, Tunisia and Canada and, from 7 August 2004, had its Baghdad bureau shut down by the Iraqi interim government.
It was started up by the emir of Qatar and is the most popular satellite news channel in the Arab world.
The U.S. administration hates it as much as the Saudis and the Iraq government does.
When it applied for a licence to broadcast in Canada, there was some furious lobbying against it, primarily by the Canadian Jewish community.
Here is an excerpt from the CRTC news release sort-of allowing al-Jazeera:
26. Among the over 500 comments received by the Commission in opposition to the sponsors’ requests were those from Jewish Women International of Canada (JWIC), Global Television Network Inc. (Global), B’Nai Brith Canada (B’Nai Brith), the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC), Christian Friends of Israel – Canada Inc. (CFI-Canada), Mr. Robert Fattal, and Asian Television Network International Limited (ATN).
27. Those opposing the requests to add Al Jazeera to the digital lists raised the following general concerns:
- Al Jazeera has a pattern of broadcasting hate propaganda during its programming, largely targeted at Jewish people, in contravention of Canadian laws and broadcast standards; and
- there are no regulatory mechanisms to deal with concerns about hate in non-Canadian services.
To be sure, some of Al-Jazeera's guests have cut loose with anti-Semitic outbursts.
However, it's allowed to be broadcast uncensored in Israel!
In the United States, the first amendment of the Constitution has been interpreted as forbidding prior restraint — in other words, the state can't muzzle you before you even open your yap.
Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms does protect freedom of expression (section 2(b)), but section 1 allows rights to be constrained “subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.”
In our typical censorship-if-necessary/but-not-necessarily-censorship kind of way, cable companies can carry al-Jazeera — but, the Canadian Radio-telephone and Telecommunications Commission put on the following restrictions:
(1) requires the licensee to retain an audio-visual recording of the Al Jazeera programming;
(2) prohibits the licensee from distributing abusive comment as part of the programming of Al Jazeera, and
(3) permits the licensee to alter or curtail the programming of Al Jazeera solely for the purpose of ensuring that no abusive comment is distributed.
It's a 24/7 application of the Don Cherry leash.
It's also prior restraint.
Now, considering it has also allowed Fox News, and look who spoke in favour of it:
B’nai Brith Canada supported the request to add Fox News, stating that it offered an alternative perspective on current events. It added that “a diversity of viewpoints and perspectives that stay within the bounds of Canadian law is an essential part of freedom of expression as enshrined in our Charter.” Such a diversity of opinion, in its view, would contribute to and enhance informed public policy debate in Canada.
Needless to say, Fox is strongly pro-Israel in its programming.
BTW, another group endorsing Fox was REAL Women of Canada.
Why would people be opposed to Fox?
The Commission received 35 comments from individuals who opposed the addition of Fox News, most of whom objected to the content of the service. Several individuals referred to Fox News as a service that presents a biased, conservative viewpoint supportive of Republican interests. Others opposed to the addition of the service suggested that the Commission should not authorize its carriage because of what they alleged to be Fox’s conservative ideological slant.
Some would allow it, with a catch:
Twenty-six individuals suggested that the Commission should approve the addition of Fox News to the digital lists, but only if the Commission applied the same terms as it applied to the carriage of the non-Canadian Arabic-language news and public affairs programming service, Al Jazeera. In support of this position, some individuals cited an instance in which Fox commentator Bill O’Reilly allegedly berated a member of the family of a 9/11 victim for signing a petition opposing the Iraq war.
Actually, al-Jazeera is often called the CNN of the Arab world, but some of its staff openly prefer to emulate Fox.
Here is what the CRTC said about those who wanted the al-Jazeera restrictions put on Fox:
Some interveners suggested that BDUs wishing to distribute Fox News should be subject to the same condition of licence applicable to those that wish to distribute Al Jazeera. The Commission considers that there is nothing on the record of this proceeding that would lead it to conclude that such treatment is necessary in the case of Fox News. Specifically, none of the reasons cited by interveners for such an approach give the Commission sufficient cause for concern that there would be abusive comment or abusive pictorial representation in the programming broadcast by Fox News that, when taken in context, tends to or is likely to expose an individual or group or class of individuals to hatred or contempt on the basis of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, sexual orientation, age or mental or physical disability. Accordingly, the Commission will not impose any requirement on BDUs for the distribution of Fox News other than those that generally apply with respect to the carriage of non-Canadian services that are included on the digital lists.
Let's wait and see about that!
The reaction in the immediate aftermath of the al-Jazeera decision back on July 15 was that no cable company would carry it because of the onerous licence conditions.
So far, that's proved to be true.
As a result, we stand with Saudia Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Tunisia and Algeria with respects to keeping al-Jazeera off the air here.
Myself, I favour allowing both Fox and al-Jazeera in unobstructed — and punishing them for their actions should they violate any licence terms.
I think Canada would be better off if we removed the asterisk from free speech*.