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Staff work at the English-language newsroom at the headquarters of the Qatar-based Al Jazeera satellite channel in Doha. (STR/REUTERS)
Staff work at the English-language newsroom at the headquarters of the Qatar-based Al Jazeera satellite channel in Doha. (STR/REUTERS)

Al Jazeera English to launch in Canada Add to ...

After months of delays, the English-language version of Al Jazeera, the Mideast news network, is coming to Canadian television screens.

The 24-hour news channel announced Tuesday that it has reached an agreement with distributors and Vidéotron Ltée to be carried on each company's cable and satellite services.

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Al Jazeera English (AJE) managing director Tony Burman said the network will attempt to challenge other news outlets such as CBC and CNN with more comprehensive global coverage, including "countries that are barely mentioned in many newscasts in Canada."

AJE, which launched three and a half years ago, can be seen in almost 200 million households in more than 100 countries around the world. AJE won regulatory approval to broadcast in Canada in November. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission noted in its decision that the network "will expand the diversity of editorial points of view in the Canadian broadcasting system."

At the time, both Bell and Rogers said they would look into the possibility of carrying the station, but for six months, no deals were announced. The station was visible in Canada only on the Internet, but will now be available to subscribers on Bell TV, Rogers in Ontario, and Illico Digital TV. Mr. Burman said the network is also in talks with Shaw Communications Inc., which would give it a wider presence in Western Canada.

AJE faces the challenge in Western markets of differentiating itself from sister network Al Jazeera Arabic, which is far more controversial. AJA was not given permission to be carried in Canada after it applied to the CRTC in 2003. At the time, critics claimed that the Arabic news station aired anti-Semitic content. The English-language network includes journalists who like Mr. Burman, once worked at CBC, and others with experience with BBC and Réseau de l'Information (RDI). Mr. Burman reached out to Jewish community leaders to invite discussion of any concerns they might have about on-air content.

"Our experience introducing this channel is, once it's on air, once people see it, all these kind of negative stereotypes … are put aside," Mr. Burman said. "This is an opportunity for Canadians to make their own judgment."

Al Jazeera English will open a Canadian bureau in Toronto in June, and plans to cover issues such as the oil sands and the mission in Afghanistan.

So far, the network has received a chilly reception in the United States, where it is carried in Washington, D.C. and otherwise is broadcast only online or by small distributors in Ohio and Vermont. The hope at AJE is that Canada will be the catalyst for wider interest across North America, Mr. Burman said.

The network is "committed to covering the world, particularly the developing world," he said. "There are a lot of Canadians who are quite happy focusing on their community or their country solely. But given the diverse makeup of this country, I think there are a lot of Canadians who really see a connection between Canada and the wider world."

 

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