TORONTO — The Canadian Radio-Television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has asked for comments on a request by the Al Jazeera news network to remove restrictions the regulator has placed on its Arabic channel that have kept it off Canadian television.
The Qatar-based channel, which is owned by the emirate and has been accused of being anti-Semitic and anti-American, was approved for distribution in Canada in 2004 on the condition that all hate speech would be edited out of its broadcasts by potential cable and satellite distributors. Al Jazeera blames the added responsibility and high costs of monitoring the channel 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for its absence from Canadian TV screens.
Kimeran Daley, head of North American distribution for Al Jazeera, said there is a lot of demand for the Al Jazeera Arabic channel in Canada. The channel is currently available to Canadians online, and she said Canada ranks fourth in the number of people watching the stream on the Internet.
“It’s really not a matter of entering the Canadian market. We’re already here,” she said. “We just want to make sure we’re available on the TV in your living room.”
Martin Sampson, director of communications and marketing for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), said he has concerns that some of the commentators on the network may be too anti-Semitic for Canadian airwaves.
He said he recently saw a clip where a commentator said the Holocaust was divinely inspired.
“My personal opinion is that’s abusive, and most members of the Jewish community would find that to be unacceptable,” he said.
Anita Bromberg, national director of legal affairs for B’nai Brith Canada, said her past concerns have included Al Jazeera broadcasts of people who are sympathetic to Holocaust denial and terrorism.
In response to whether the channel could guarantee it would be free of hate speech, Daley said the channel allows all sides of an issue to participate in discussions.
“We encourage all members of the Canadian community, including the Jewish community, to use it as a platform,” she said.
Right now, the channel is aired unedited in countries such as Israel, the United Kingdom and France, Daley said, adding that she hopes the company’s “very high editorial standards” would satisfy Canadian broadcast policy.
Bromberg countered that Canadians may not be as knowledgeable on Middle East issues as Israelis, for example, and thus might not be able to recognize a bias against the Jewish state.
“As best as we can see now, subject to our further review, there remains reasons to be concerned that a monitoring system should be in place,” she said, adding that she thinks a self-monitoring system similar to the one B’nai Brith helped put in place with the former Canadian Jewish Congress to monitor Al Jazeera English may be a good idea for the Arabic channel.
However, she said the high expense of monitoring, especially given the language barrier, should fall on the network, not the Jewish community.
She said B’nai Brith is reviewing the channel and working on outlining its concerns to the CRTC.
Sampson said although CIJA is still evaluating whether to submit comments to the CRTC, he hopes the commission will “apply their own regulations, and will do what’s right… to ensure that Canadians aren’t subject to abuse of comment.”