CRTC Approves Al Jazeera English

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) today approved a request to add Al Jazeera English to the list of satellite television channels eligible for digital distribution in Canada.

The decision means Canadian cable and satellite TV services can offer the 24-hour news channel — the English-language counterpart to the Arabic-language Al Jazeera — to their subscribers.

As the decision explains, there were two possible obstacles to approving the application. One would have been that the service competed with a domestic channel — the CRTC’s general approach is not to allow foreign signals to be distributed here if they directly compete with a  Canadian service — but the CRTC found there was no such competition.

The other issue was whether Al Jazeera English’s reporting is balanced and whether the channel might air abusive comment. Though a minority of the individuals and organizations that submitted comments on the application questioned Al Jazeera’s reporting standards, the CRTC concluded that “there is nothing on the record of the current proceeding to lead the Commission to conclude that there is a serious risk that abusive comment will be broadcast on AJE.”

The decision does not that the CRTC retains the power to remove Al Jazeera English or any other non-Canadian service from its approved list if it is found to have broadcast abusive comment.

One commissioner, Marc Patrone, wrote a dissenting opinion arguing that the channel should not have been approved because of concerns about its journalistic standards.

The CRTC said more than 2,600 parties filed comments supporting the approval of Al Jazeera English, about 40 filed comments opposing it and seven filed general comments that did not take sides.

Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) applauded the decision.

“We hail this decision as an indication that Canada welcomes access to a diversity of opinions and sources of news,” said CJFE President Arnold Amber. “With this kind of free expression and access to information Canadians will ahve more information they need to make informed judgments about world events and issues.”