Fighting for a free and open media

By Tyler Wolfe

It is not uncommon to hear accusations of bias directed towards news media organizations in North America. From the CBC as a socialist mouthpiece to Fox News’ right-wing corporate agenda, it seems no media outlet is able to escape at least some finger pointing. Although there are exceptions, these types of accusations are frequently based more in political partisanship and ignorance than fact. Nowhere is this more true than in the case of the world’s first English language news outlet based out of the Middle East: Al Jazeera English.

It is believed that in the next few weeks, AJE will apply to the CRTC for a licence to broadcast throughout Canada, with hopes of being on the air sometime this fall. This has been met with much malice by Canadians with limited exposure to the Qatar-based media organization. A recent poll in the Calgary Sun found 78 per cent of respondents do not want the CRTC to grant AJE permission to broadcast in Canada. While the Sun’s readership is probably not a fair representation of Canadian society at large, the fact that its readers feel as strongly as they do is somewhat telling.

The Sun clearly represents a certain demographic of readers. Those looking for in-depth analysis of current events would best be served elsewhere. Moreover, with the highly centralized nature of news media in Canada, it can be difficult for alternative viewpoints to be heard. AJE would provide a unique lens for Canadians to view international current events. Their mission statement claims to provide “independent, impartial news for a global audience and to offer a voice to a diversity of perspectives from under-reported regions.” This all sounds pretty good, so why the hostility? After all, it’s one thing to say that you wouldn’t watch a particular news service, but quite another to demand its censor.

Unfortunately, the simple ability to answer the Sun’s poll question with a “yes” or “no” prevents us from understanding the rationale behind the overwhelming resistance to AJE. Perhaps it is about a perceived anti-Western bias within the network. Sure, AJE claims to be impartial, but how do we know they’ll live up to this? Fox News claims to be fair and balanced– I would suggest taking this with a grain of salt. Yet, there was no fuss when Fox applied for and received approval from the CRTC.

The real reason for the aversion to AJE is based mainly in ignorance. The belief, then, is this outlet from the Middle East must be associated with terrorists wanting to spout anti-democracy hatred. It would probably surprise many of the 78 per cent to learn that AJE is headed by a Canadian and former editor-in-chief of the CBC. Or that it has received an Amnesty International Media Award, as well as an International Emmy nomination.

In just over two years since its launch, AJE has gained an audience of over 140 million households in more than 100 countries– including Israel. Its journalists have proven themselves by bringing stories to the masses that otherwise would likely have gone unreported. They were the only English language news outlet to broadcast from within Gaza during the most recent Israeli siege, showing a side of the conflict unavailable to Canadians.

The CRTC needs to approve Al Jazeera English’s application. A free and open media is a cornerstone of our society and AJE should have the chance to prove its worth. Canadians deserve the option to receive their news from this source and AJE deserves the same rights any other foreign channel receives. Perhaps the ability to tune in to AJE would broaden the minds of some of those 78 per cent who are so opposed to the channel and remove some of their ingrained ignorance.

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