From The National Post
Bring on Al Jazeera, Canada can take it
Channel will open our eyes to propaganda
Jonathan Kay, National Post Published: Friday, November 27, 2009
Since 9/11, it’s become part of the received wisdom that we in the West have got to pay more attention to the attitudes of Muslims in the Middle East and central Asia. Terrorist attacks may end with bombs and guns, but they begin with propaganda and conspiracy theories.
Yet when the opportunity comes to actually have Muslim voices piped into our homes, our media and political elites get cold feet. In 2003, when Al Jazeera Arabic (AJA) petitioned to be carried in Canada, Jewish groups complained that it might become a medium to indoctrinate Canadian viewers with anti-Semitism. Eventually, the CRTC approved AJA. But in so doing, the CRTC declared that cable and satellite carriers would be directly responsible for blacking out AJA material that crossed the line into hate speech.
In other words, Canadian media officials sitting in Toronto would be in charge of hitting the bleep-out button, in real time, when Ahmed from Amman phoned into a 3 a.m. call-in show to complain about Benjamin Netanyahu, or some preacher went off on a rant about the simian qualities of Jews. Not surprisingly, no one in Canada was willing to take up the challenge. And so, to this day, the only place we can see AJA is on the Internet.
It was a ridiculous decision. By the standards of Arabiclanguage media, AJA represents the height of elite journalistic professionalism. Yes, it has its share of nutbars and hatemongers — but that’s the Middle East for you. If you’re looking for a politically correct Arabic version of PBS, you’re simply not going to find it.
In any case, Canadian Arabs thwarted from watching AJA aren’t going to suddenly start reading Commentary magazine and watching Fox News. They’re going to head elsewhere, like pirated feeds to the Hezbollah-run satellite service al-Manar. In fact, the real jihadi types — the ones we should be worried about — typically don’t even bother watching television. They’re too busy downloading terror snuff films, and surfing jihadi forums on the uncensored Internet.
This week came progress: The CRTC approved the Canadian transmission of Al-Jazeera English (A JE), an even-less inflammatory and more mainstream (by Western standards) satellite television service. Having watched A JE a few times, I can attest that its left-wing, mildly anti-American tone isn’t that much different from a lot of the fare that you’d hear on, say, CBC Radio’s The Current. (No surprise, in fact, that AJE has become a home for several ex-CBCers, including former TV host Avi Lewis and his one-time boss, Tony Burman.) Even the Canadian Jewish Congress and similarly minded groups were hard-pressed to find examples suggesting AJE had a human-rights-challenged editorial agenda.
The future addition of AJE to Canadians’ satellite and cable menu is a welcome development. But I’d prefer to see the CRTC truly open the information floodgates. AJA should be permitted in Canada, full stop — and relieved of the electronic leash collared on it five years ago. If some of the material shocks Canadian viewers, all the better: It’ll open our eyes by exposing us to a tiny thimbleful of the propaganda that many Muslim cultures are soaked in 24/7.
A little while back, I spoke at a conference in Washington, D.C., where foreign-affairs specialists talked about the problem of anti-Western misinformation being spread overseas. The most shocking presentation was made by an Urdu-language specialist, who told the crowd that many Pakistani TV stations don’t even run conventional tele vision programming: They just run the most bizarre, conspiratorial YouTube videos they can find, annotated with local-language close-captions.
Such media practices go a long way to explain why people in Pakistan, and the rest of the Muslim world besides, entertain so many phobic attitudes toward, say, Canadian troops fighting in Afghanistan. While those soldiers do the real fighting, the rest of us should at least have the courage to put up with a radical Imam or two fulminating on our television screens. In real life, there’s no such thing as changing the channel.