Al-Jazeera is in the news again. Iraqi authorities shut down the Qatari television station's Baghdad offices, citing the "violence they are advocating, inciting hatred and problems and racial tension." The U.S. Democratic party decided to take down Al-Jazeera's banner from its national conference, so it would not be televised around the globe.
But in Canada, in the biggest telecommunications uproar in decades, Al-Jazeera won approval for distribution over Canada's pristine, politically correct, airwaves. This unlikely success in Canada for an Islamist, antisemitic, pro-terrorist channel was achieved by winning a special dispensation not available to the Fox News Channel, the Italian state channel RAI, or a local Quebec City-based radio station – a dispensation full of implications.
First, some background: The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) was formed in 1968 to decide who gets to broadcast in Canada, and has always seen its mandate primarily to serve as a bulwark against American programming, fearing that the giant to the south would overwhelm homegrown talent. The main criterion for a foreign station to win access to Canada was its not competing with companies already in the Canadian marketplace, plus the existence of consumer demand for its product.
Then, in 1986-87, restricting "abusive comment" became a CRTC responsibility, after Canada's "anti-hate laws" amended the Criminal Code, the Broadcasting Act, and other human rights statutes. Its only leverage however, was to grant or revoke 5-to-7-year licenses, though in instances, it can revoke a license sooner. The CRTC lacks funds to monitor stations on its own, so it responds to complaints, investigates them, and if it finds them warranted, revokes licenses.
For example, earlier in July, the CRTC revoked Quebec radio station CHOI's license, on the "abusive comment" grounds. CHOI is a legitimate outlet but displays a politically incorrect agenda, regularly offending gays, women, and others. CHOI ignored CRTC warnings to change its ways and got shut down. Note that the CRTC made no attempt to sift the wheat from the chaff, block out a few shows, or fire a few announcers. It revoked the CHOI license, plain and simple.
One would similarly expect Al-Jazeera, also a legitimate outlet but infamous for its "abusive comments", to be denied a license. But in this case the CRTC found a creative way to circumvent its own criteria. It invited the potential distributors of Al-Jazeera to monitor for compliance, delete programs as necessary, and keep the tapes for review. The CRTC effectively invited distributors to edit materials that contravene Canada's anti-hate laws, thereby minimizing complaints and ensuring that Al-Jazeera stays on the air.
This decision was made despite there being no question that Al-Jazeera broadcasts objectionable material. Secretary of State Colin Powell notes 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." CRTC chairman Charles Dalfen stated 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 KKK leader David Duke; Duke is not allowed on any station now available in Canada.
Montreal MP Jacques Saada concludes that "Al-Jazeera is a station which has a history of allowing the distribution of materials that are contrary to our Canadian laws and Charter." Toronto MP Art Eggleton concurs: "The hatred spoken over the airwaves by Al-Jazeera could well contravene Canada's hate laws." Nor is this only a theoretical worry, as Montreal and Toronto both witnessed a spike in crimes by Middle Eastern immigrants against Jews.
(The French broadcasting authority, CSA, banned Hizbullah's Al-Manar satellite television from broadcasting in France on July 28, due to its "anti-Semitic content." It had been broadcasting since September 2002, during which time hate crimes against Jews have doubled in France, and almost half of French Jews now say they are thinking of leaving France.)
The unprecedented concession to broadcast Al-Jazeera has raised eyebrows among those waiting for Fox News in Canada. They charge the CRTC with bias, given how the Fox applications have repeatedly been denied for four years – though it has a legitimate viewpoint and certainly does not have a problem with "abusive comments." CRTC's claim that Fox fails its non-competition criteria is dubious, given Fox's conservative-leaning viewpoint, one not found at its principal competitors, the Canadian Broadcast Corporation or CNN.
Then there is the question of market share, as established by the RAI precedent. This Italian state-owned channel sought to enter the Canadian market and a petition to the CRTC of 100,000 names supported the application, but it was turned down on the grounds that another station, Telelatino, already served the 469,485 Italian-speaking Canadians. If regulations were applied consistently, the existence of other Arabic-language channels in Canada (ART America, Ana Canada, Arab TV Network, ART movies) that serve the 199,940 Arabic-speaking Canadians would be reason for Al-Jazeera's rejection. (And the same day Al-Jazeera was accepted, LBC, another Arabic-language station, was rejected.)
Despite these many concessions to Al-Jazeera, its advocates have expressed discontent, finding its treatment not special enough. The Canadian office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations told its followers to "CONTACT the CRTC. Ask them to revoke their restrictions." Would-be distributors complain that cleaning up Al-Jazeera is too daunting. "We would have to have somebody 24 hours a day, seven days a week, who spoke Arabic, who understands the Canadian broadcasting standards, and then would be able to black out that particular piece of programming," bellyaches Peter Bissonette, president of Shaw Communications.
That the CRTC has applied new and unique rules to Al-Jazeera alone fits into a wider pattern of concessions made to Islamists throughout the West. A municipal swimming pool in France implements women-only hours. A British judge agrees to prohibit Jews and Hindus from serving on the jury to try a Muslim. The U.S. State Department appoints a Muslim-only advisory board. The government of Argentina donates land to build a mosque.
Muslims are entitled to equal rights; they are not entitled to special rights. Western governments need to make this point often, consistently, and with emphasis.
Feb. 18, 2009 update: The CBC blog reports that Al Jazeera English applied today for a license to broadcast in Canada. The step was announced by Tony Burman, a former CBC News editor-in-chief who now runs Al Jazeera English from Qatar; he hopes to open a Canadian bureau and begin broadcasting in the fall.
Burman added a political twist to his appeal, expressing frustration that the CBC often covers American stories from a U.S. perspective, rather than a Canadian one. Implausible as it sounds, he hopes to remedy that with Al Jazeera English. (One would expect AJE to offer an Arab perspective not a Canadian one, after all.)
May 4, 2010 update: Al Jazeera English received regulatory approval from the CRTC in November 2009 and began broadcasting in Canada today. The network plans to open a bureau in Toronto in June.