Canada, Al Jazeera, and Fox

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Al Jazeera has been deemed acceptable viewing for Canadians ... but Fox News? No. It's currently only available to Canadians with illegal satellite connections. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), a federal agency that decideswhat constitutes appropriate viewing and listening for Canadians, and that, last month, granted Al Jazeera the right to broadcast in Canada, is a paleo- concept. That culturecrats in Ottawa have, as their mandate, the protection of "Canadian values" and promotion of "Canadian content" reeks of rightthink, doublespeak, and social engineering.

On the surface, the Al Jazeera decision seems to jell with the CRTC's raison d'être, but the reasoning isn't consistent. The commission says Al Jazeera doesn't compete with existing channels. True enough. We don't have a 24-hour Arabic news network that bubbles with anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism. We do, however, have a public broadcaster with barely concealed anti-American and anti-Israeli biases. Canadians should perhaps be grateful their taxes don't fund Al Jazeera as they do the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).

What Canadians most certainly do not have is a conservative news network. Yet Fox News was told in 2000 that it could broadcast in Canada only if it offered a schedule with 15 percent Canadian content. I'm grateful this proposal never took off, particularly when I see the Canadian version of MSNBC - Matthews, Scarborough, et al., interspersed with a distressing array of Northern talking heads singing the praises of Canadian multiculturalism, social programs, and niceness.

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CRTC defenders - and there are many in Canada's arts community - say the agency is simply trying to shield Canadian sensibilities from nefarious outside influences. (Read: conservative American influences.) The reluctance to allow access to a network that might shake up the status quo is a reflection of national insecurity. The issue isn't whether people will like everything they see on Fox News. CNN, NBC, ABC, and CBS all broadcast here sans Canadian content. But they're relatively centrist. And no one seems concerned that BBC World airs here or that the CBC 24-hour cable channel carries its nightly newscast. So the BBC is competing with existing stations - but it has all the right (or, better said, left) biases. If Al Jazeera were rejected, the CRTC would be called intolerant by many in a nation where moral relativism has become the norm. One man's fatwa is another man's hockey game.

The CRTC is again considering an application from Fox News - a decision is expected in the fall. Curiously, in clearing the way for Al Jazeera, the CRTC included a waiver asking distributors to edit out "abusive comment." This sets a dangerous precedent: If we watch Al Jazeera - and I'm not convinced we shouldn't be allowed to - we should be exposed to what it truly is, not a sanitized version. Not to mention that if Fox News is permitted in Canada, I wouldn't be astonished if "abusive comments" (Read: pro-American) were replaced with a test pattern.

Rondi Adamson is a Canadian writer.

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