Al-Jazeera lands broadcast licence

OTTAWA — Al Jazeera’s English-language news network will be coming soon to the cable and satellite dial, after winning the approval of Canada’s broadcast regulator.

OTTAWA — Al Jazeera’s English-language news network will be coming soon to the cable and satellite dial, after winning the approval of Canada’s broadcast regulator.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission approved the Qatar-based network’s application to be offered by digital cable and satellite service providers.

In the past, the regulator had hesitated to allow non-Canadian channels that competed with domestic services, but said its decision was in keeping with a policy of promoting a diversity of editorial points of view.

It also did not impose the kind of surveillance of the network’s content that it did on Al Jazeera’s Arabic service in 2004.

Al Jazeera English is broadcast in 100 countries on television and via the Internet, and employs roughly 1,200 journalists, some of them Canadian. Managing director Tony Burman was former editor-in-chief at CBC News, and helped drum up support in Canada for the application.

Such figures as the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, NDP Leader Jack Layton and Conservative Senator Hugh Segal backed the bid for a licence.

Groups such as the Canadian Jewish Congress and B’nai Brith Canada did not oppose the licence, but said they would remain vigilant to the content being broadcast.

But one commissioner, Marc Patrone, provided a dissenting view on the licence application. He argued that the commission should have taken into account the record of Al Jazeera’s arabic service, which had been scrutinized for offensive content.

He expressed doubts that the two networks are wholly independent.

“It’s also a missed opportunity to send a message internationally about levels of journalistic standards and codes that we consider important enough to demand from all news broadcasters who wish to operate in this country,” wrote Patrone.

“Adding diversity is necessary, but not at any price.”

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