TORONTO (JTA) — Al-Jazeera is lobbying Canadian Jews in its bid for regulatory approval to hit the airwaves.
Tony Burman, a former executive at the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. who is now managing director of the Al-Jazeera network, met this week with representatives of the Canadian Jewish Congress to reassure Canadian Jews that the operation’s English service, which has been running for two years, is independent from the controversial Arabic service.
In 2003, the CJC and B’nai Brith Canada opposed Al-Jazeera’s application for a broadcast license, saying the the Qatar-based network had a track record of broadcasting anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial, and that it glorified suicide bombers. They said the network’s Arabic service would contravene Canadian anti-hate laws.
The following year, Canada’s broadcast regulator approved carriage of the Arabic service but imposed restrictions so onerous that airing the network became impossible. Domestic cable and satellite providers were ordered to "alter or delete" programming to ensure that no "abusive comment" would be broadcast.
CJC is "struggling with" the bid for the English service’s approval, Bernie Farber, the organization’s CEO, told the Toronto Star. "We recognize the need for free speech to be paramount and the right of broadcasters to ensure they can reach audiences."
However, "there’s no walking away from some of the disgusting, anti-Semitic, Jew-hating broadcasts [Al-Jazeera has] engaged in." Even so, "the jury remains out in our mind."