Al-Jazeera English set sights on Canadian TV screens

Al-Jazeera will soon be broadcast on Canadian television, according to the managing editor of the English-language station of the  Qatar-based news network.

During a UBC Graduate School of Journalism panel on international reporting, Tony Burman, previously of the CBC, said a Canadian cable carrier will apply to CRTC  for the right to broadcast the network. Business writer Hugh Dawson was in the crowd and reported for the Vancouver Sun.

Burman said an announcement is imminent. Al-Jazeera English (AJE) on Canadian airwaves should be a welcome addition for Canadian audiences and journalists alike.

Access to the network’s 24-hour news coverage will allow viewers a different perspective from the cycle of CBC, BBC, CNN and other Western broadcasters.

AJE is praised for its solid reporting. An editor at Haaretz, an influential, daily Israeli newspaper, wrote about his favorite journalist reporting from Gaza, who he called a “wise and considered broadcaster.”

My war hero is Ayman Mohyeldin, the young correspondent for Al Jazeera English and the only foreign correspondent broadcasting during these awful days in a Gaza Strip closed off to the media. Al Jazeera English is not what you might think. It offers balanced, professional reporting from correspondents both in Sderot and Gaza. And Mohyeldin is the cherry on top of this journalistic cream. I wouldn’t have needed him or his broadcasts if not for the Israeli stations’ blackout of the fighting. Since discovering this wunderkind from America (his mother is from the West Bank city of Tul Karm and his father from Egypt), I have stopped frantically changing TV stations.

Including Tony Burman and Ayman Mohyeldin, AJE has head-hunted a swath of talent from rival networks. The coverage and commentary can be less polished compared to the high-octane studios some viewers are accustom to, yet how a hologram “advances the story,” remains to be seen.

Concerns over content

Burman said the strength of AJE will come from a “fearless” commitment to the highest journalistic practices and standards:

We will report every angle of every side of every story worth reporting. What we are trying to do is a lot like what the CBC did during its great years.

He winked his way through an infamous affiliation and said the network is unknown to many Canadians:

I have friends who think I dine regularly with Osama bin Laden. But I confess–I have only met him a dozen times. We know that most people in Canada have never seen Al-Jazeera.


Al-Jazeera Arabic was approved for broadcast in Canada in 2004, but no cable carrier touched the network because it would have been responsible for “any abusive comment” and would have been required to “alter or delete the programming of Al Jazeera solely for the purpose of ensuring that no abusive comment is distributed.”

This was two years before the launch of the English-language station, and the Canadian Jewish Congress and B’nai Brith lobbied the CRTC to prevent distribution.

The content restriction was the first in CRTC history, and Burman likened the condition to a newsstand being accountable for whatever headlines are up for sale each morning.

For some, this amounted to censorship that may have been for our own good. And yet other critics believe the Arab-backed broadcaster exists solely as a tool for Jewish persecution.

In 1999, Al-Jazeera was the only Arab news station broadcasting around the clock. The United States, for the most part, was introduced to the network after September 11, 2001, as the superpower launched air strikes in Afghanistan. Live footage of bombs falling on Kabul preceded bin Laden’s denouncement of the U.S. and American officials voiced their discontent as the wartime rhetoric amped up. On November 13, 2001, a set of U.S. bombs destroyed Al-Jazeera’s Kabul headquarters.

In the spring of 2002, “Inside Al-Jazeera” in the Columbia Journalism Review discussed the network as both a filter and fuel for Arab-American tensions:

Al Jazeera’s journalists do not seem particularly worried about [bin Laden being a network ’star’] or any criticism, but they do say that critics frequently confuse the network with the newsmakers and talk-show guests that appear on it. “Are we a mouthpiece for bin Laden?” says Dana Suyyagh, an Al Jazeera news producer who was educated in Canada. “Maybe, but that would make us Bush’s mouthpiece as well. He gets more airtime, actually.”

AJE is still unavailable to the majority of U.S. viewers, but there is a growing argument for access.

With the network broadening its scope to North America, one thing remains to be seen: how will the network cover Canadians?

Post Author: Neil Black