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Al-Jazeera English gets CRTC approval

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Last Updated: Thursday, November 26, 2009 | 3:40 PM ET

Al-Jazeera English, the English-language service of the Qatar-based broadcaster, has been approved for distribution via satellite in Canada.

Ethnic Channels Group Ltd., a Toronto-based satellite service, had applied in February to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission for permission to carry Al-Jazeera English.

On Thursday, the federal regulator approved the request, clearing the way for Al-Jazeera to be carried via digital satellite. The network could become available to subscribers by January or February.

'AJE will expand the diversity of editorial points of view in the Canadian broadcasting system.'

—CRTC decision

"The commission notes the substantial support for the addition of AJE to the digital lists and considers that AJE will expand the diversity of editorial points of view in the Canadian broadcasting system," the CRTC said in its decision.

"Further, despite concerns expressed by certain parties, there is nothing on the record of the current proceeding that leads the commission to conclude that AJE would violate Canadian regulations, such as those regarding abusive comment."

Jewish concerns

The Canadian Jewish Congress and B'nai Brith Canada had expressed concerns about how balanced Al-Jazeera's reporting would be, but they neither opposed nor supported the application. The Jewish organizations instead urged vigilance in case the news service engages in Holocaust denial or other anti-Semitic statements.

The CJC also urged the CRTC to ensure Al-Jazeera English remains independent from its Arabic-language counterpart.

Honest Reporting Canada, an organization that describes itself as "dedicated to defending Israel against prejudice in the media," cited two examples of Al-Jazeera English's journalism that it said did not meet Canadian standards of accuracy and balance, but it did not officially oppose the application.

Ethnic Channels Group argued before the regulator that Al-Jazeera English, which has been operating since 2006 in more than 100 countries, has a good track record of accuracy and balance.

The 24-hour international news service is an arm of Al-Jazeera, the news channel based in Doha, Qatar, that some consider controversial because of, among other things, its reporters' access to al-Qaeda.

Tony Burman, the former head of CBC News who is Al-Jazeera English's managing director, said he believes Canadians will welcome the international news service.

'Respected around the world'

"We're now seen in more than 180 million households in more than 100 countries. The political baggage that is associated with Al-Jazeera is really limited to the United States and thankfully no longer in Canada. I think the brand of Al-Jazeera is respected around the world," he told CBC News on Thursday.

"It's is not obsessed at all with the Middle Eastern stories, as important as they may be. You'll see Africa, you'll see North America, you'll see Asia. You'll see countries and, dare I say, even continents that are often not even mentioned in North American media today. I think Canada, as one of the most multicultural countries in the world, I think will appreciate that."

Al-Jazeera has a large international network of correspondents, including many in parts of Africa and Asia that are neglected by other news networks.

It also has a large Washington bureau and plans to open a bureau in Canada, Burman said.

Corrections and Clarifications

  • The group called Honest Reporting Canada did not oppose the application by Al-Jazeera English as earlier reported. November 26, 2009 | 1:29 p.m. ET
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