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Supporters rally for Al Jazeera licence in Canada

VANCOUVER - Al Jazeera English could soon be headed to a television set in your living room.

At least that’s the hope of a group of supporters that is lobbying for the station’s broadcast licence in Canada.

“Having more independent journalism, having another voice or another option for the Canadian audience to tap into is something that will help democracy, will help shape public opinion,” said Walied Khogali, coordinator of Canadians for Al Jazeera.

The group is encouraging the public to write the CRTC in support of a broadcast license. The federal regulator has been receiving public submissions for a 30-day consultation period, which ends Monday.

By the end of last week, over 1000 submissions had already been received, Khogali said.

Al Jazeera English is currently offered in more than 100 countries. The station is only available on a handful of stations in the United States, but North Americans, Canadians included, can currently watch the station’s programming on the Internet via YouTube clips and a live feed.

“A lot of people watch it online,” said Khogali. “Why shouldn’t we have that in the comfort of our living rooms?”

Supporters say the addition of the channel would offer news and viewpoints currently unavailable on Canadian television, especially a focus on the Global South regions including Africa, Asia and Latin America.

“As Canadians we are a multi-cultural country and we appreciate unique perspectives on global issues that are happening,” said Khogali.

The addition of Al Jazeera English would also provide employment for Canadian journalists and feature Canadian news around the world, he said.

“They have promised to invest resources here to set up a bureau in Canada to cover Canadian content and Canadian stories.”

In 2004, the CRTC approved a Canadian licence for the Arabic version of Al Jazeera. But no distributors picked up the channel because of significant restrictions, including requirements to record every broadcast and ensure nothing was aired that violated hate crime laws, said Khogali.

The Canadian Jewish Congress would like to see similar restrictions imposed for Al Jazeera English, according to the Globe and Mail.

“I think Al Jazeera has much to prove in terms of its legitimacy, its credibility,” said Bernie Farber, chief executive officer of the CJC, criticizing what he called “hate-mongering,” on the Arabic network. He added he was not saying this was necessarily the case for the English channel but said it will have to prove itself.

Notions that Al Jazeera English is hateful or unfair are dismissed by supporters, including one prominent Canadian journalist. Tony Burman, former Editor in Chief of CBC News is now the Managing Director of Al Jazeera English and has been touring the country building support for the network.

"Once people have a chance to watch Al Jazeera and become familiar with the range of programming, the way it handles issues including the Middle East, people will have no reason whatsoever to conclude that this is a biased channel,” Burman told The Tyee in February.

“It's an award-winning channel that a lot of people compare to the BBC and CNN.”

Garrett Zehr reports for The Tyee.

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