Real must see TV: The case for Al Jazeera in Canada

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support in its summer fundraiser today for as little as $5 per month!

I first noticed Al Jazeera on a mission to the Palestinian territories in 2002. Every home I visited was tuned to Al Jazeera, all the time. Even the children watched it.

When I watched with the help of my Arabic speaking hosts, I realized that this was television with a difference. It told stories from the ground up. In addition to generals and politicians, we heard from and saw ordinary people and the conditions of their lives. And for my Palestinian hosts, it was the only place they could find out what was really happening in the Middle East.

As a teacher, the documentary Control Room gives me the opportunity to show my students just what real journalism that afflicts the comfortable and comforts the afflicted looks like. Like thousands of other North Americans, I found Al Jazeera English on the Web invaluable during the recent Israeli assault on Gaza. They were the only English language network with reporters in Gaza and, besides, it was the only TV news I could stand to watch.

So when I heard that Al Jazeera English was applying to be on cable in Canada, I couldn't wait to find out how I could help. I went to hear Tony Burman, my old boss at the CBC and now Managing Director of Al Jazeera English, speak in Toronto on February 17. Tony's no radical but he's always been an honest and courageous journalist. When CBC Newsworld decided to run a full day of programming about violence against women on the tenth anniversary of the Montreal Massacre, I remember that Tony stood up against the hysterical attacks by right-wing media without budging an inch.

The most interesting part of Tony's talk was not his assurance to the audience of mostly Canadian journalists and journalism students that Al Jazeera holds to journalistic ethics similar to the CBC and the BBC, or that it is widely watched in Israel or even that Al Jazeera is at least as controversial with Arab heads of state as it is with the U.S. government, but rather his explanation of the vision of Al Jazeera English and its unique role as an international broadcaster without a home base.

"The introduction of Al Jazeera English comes at a special time in the 21st Century," he said. "Power is shifting. In historical, even epic terms, the ground is moving beneath our feet."

Quoting Fareed Zakaria, he continued, "We are moving into a post-American world, one defined and directed from many places and by many people." This is what Zakaria calls the "rising of the rest."

Al Jazeera English has more journalists covering Africa than any other international news channel, correspondents throughout Asia, more coverage of South America than any of their competitors, more than 150 staff in Washington, D.C. and they hope to open a bureau in Canada this fall. And of course AJE (as they call themselves) has "pride of place" all over the world for its Middle East coverage.

"The goal is far more revolutionary." says Burman. "We simply want people to understand the full story, not a narrow one. Every angle. Every side. Regardless of the consequences." According to Burman, they are trying to let the world report on itself.

Judith Marshall, an international solidarity activist from the United Steelworkers, told me that she watched AJE the last time she was in Africa and was stunned at the difference of watching television news without a Northern bias.

The goals of AJE are:

*To provide independent and impartial news for a global audience

*To bring the perspective of the South to the forefront of public policy debates

*To give voice to the voiceless

*And to tell truth to power, holding them accountable regardless of the consequences

Al Jazeera English is the kind of global television news we need in this country and it's going to be a fight. It should be a simple question of freedom of the press but the last time the CRTC imposed such onerous conditions on the potential broadcaster of Al Jazeera Arabic that no cable station would run it, in 2003. The Canadian Jewish Congress has already announced its opposition despite the high praise for Al Jazeera English almost everywhere, including Israel.

Make sure that Canadians are not denied truly global television news. Go to and write your cable operator to ask for AJE. Then stay tuned for the CRTC hearings and make your voice heard then as well.

We need Al Jazeera English in Canada and together we can make it happen.


Judy Rebick is the former publisher of and the author of the forthcoming book Transforming Power: From the Personal to the Political.


Further Reading

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable. has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.