We Need Al-Jazeera English in Canada

portrait-hamdaniBy Hussein Hamdani

(June 9, 2009) – Enough is enough, we need Al- Jazeera English (AJE) in Canada.

After only two years on the air, the channel has become an award-winning leader in the coverage of Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Europe and the Americas.

Although it is available in more than 100 countries and broadcasts to more than 130 million households, shamefully it is not available in Canada.

In fact, Canada is the only country in the English-speaking world that doesn’t get AJE. Hopefully, this will change soon.

AJE, the 24-hour international news and current affairs channel, announced in February it would formally seek cable and satellite carriage in Canada.

If authorized for distribution in Canada, AJE has committed to opening its first Canadian news bureau to bring Canadian news to a worldwide audience. This would make it the only international news channel to have a news bureau in Canada.

This means the world will be showcased in Canada, and Canada will be showcased to the world. About time!

AJE has more than 1,200 employees worldwide, representing more than 45 nationalities, including many Canadians — the channel’s managing director, Tony Burman, is a Canadian and former editor-in-chief of the CBC.

AJE constitutes the most diverse news service in the world. Combined with the Al Jazeera Arabic service, it has 69 international news bureaus — more than the BBC and CNN.

Some might ask, what about allegations by some Jewish organizations that AJE broadcast material that is anti-Semitic.

These allegations are old, stale and have been long refuted. Since January 2007, AJE has been available in Israel.

The decision was made to remove BBC and replace it with AJE because AJE was thought to be unbiased and balanced. It has given more air time to Israeli officials than any other news channel outside of Israel.

AJE is a channel that reports all sides of the story. The Jerusalem bureau is its largest, and its coverage of Palestine/Israel issues is extensive.

Canadians are a sophisticated and intelligent bunch.

We realize that the world is complex, and growing more and more interdependent.

It is important for us to know what is happening around the world from a variety of perspectives.

These perspectives will contribute to our better understanding of international issues.

As Burman stated in a recent talk in Toronto, “It is clear to us there is a significant demand for AJE in Canada.

“Canadians want to understand the world in all of its diversity and cultural richness.

“Our website receives 22 million visits every month with over 50 per cent coming from North America, and our branded YouTube page is by far the most popular news site on YouTube.

“These numbers alone show how hungry Canadians are for the fearless, groundbreaking reporting that runs daily on AJE.

“This is a demonstration of the country’s commitment to freedom of expression.”

In the 600-channel universe found in most Canadian homes, it is shameful that AJE is not offered here.

In a free, democratic and capitalist country, Canadians should be allowed and be free to watch news and views from around the world, if we chose to do so; otherwise, we can click to a different channel.

The unfounded hypersensitivities of a political lobby group or two should not be enough to deny Canadians this access to information.

To deny AJE in Canada would appear to many to be prejudicial and discriminatory.

If you want to learn more about Al-Jazeera English in Canada, so that you can make your own, informed decision, or if you want to demand AJE be allowed here, feel free to view its website: iwantaje.ca.

Expand your sources of information and do not allow yourself to be censored.

Freelance columnist Hussein Hamdani lives in Burlington, and works as a lawyer in Hamilton.