Al-Jazeera is now live on Canadian screens - computer screens, that is. While the CRTC mulls over the issue of giving the popular Arab news network a cable slot, Montreal's JumpTV has beaten everyone to the punch, striking a deal with Al-Jazeera to broadcast the network live online - and beyond the CRTC's authority.
Some have praised Al-Jazeera as the first truly free press in the Arab world, but the move to bring it to Canada has infuriated B'nai Brith, which accuses Al-Jazeera of anti-Semitism. It points to incidents when the network played clips of Palestinian militants claiming that Jews drink the blood of Arabs and when a viewer's letter calling for a new Holocaust was read on air.
"We would hope that Canadian broadcasters and re-broadcasters would be committed enough to Canadian values that they would not broadcast this station," says B'nai Brith director of communications Joseph Ben-Ami.
"What it's doing is not just playing sound bites," says Ben-Ami. "It actually broadcasts entire speeches [by militants]. It would be analogous to CNN saying to [Nation of Islam leader] Louis Farrakhan that it would give him half an hour to say whatever insidious thing he wants."
Ben-Ami says B'nai Brith will ask JumpTV to remove the live Al-Jazeera feed from its Web site. "If that doesn't happen, we have other [legal] resources," he says, declining to give details.
JumpTV spokesperson Blake Markel says his company will meet with B'nai Brith to discuss its concerns, but adds that no date has been set for a meeting. He would not comment on how many people are now viewing Al-Jazeera through www.jumptv.com, which broadcasts a number of international networks.
However, while B'nai Brith is irked by the Qatar-based network - sometimes called the CNN of the Arab world - Canada's Arab community has eagerly awaited its arrival.
"I think Canadians have every right to see this station," says Canadian Arab Federation president Raja Khouri. "It has a balanced way of reporting that you don't see on American networks."
Khouri points out that Al-Jazeera was the first Arab network to interview Israeli officials, and while it plays clips that can sometimes be offensive, it does not endorse those views itself.
"The claims [B'nai Brith] makes about Al-Jazeera being anti-Semitic are disingenuous," he says. "We feel they are politically motivated because Al-Jazeera covers the Palestinian-Israeli conflict so closely."