INDEPENDENT MEDIA by Steve Anderson
A year ago, OpenMedia.ca, along with several other groups, rallied people from across Canada to contact the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) in support of Al Jazeera English’s (AJE) application to broadcast in Canada. Of the approximately 2,800 public comments submitted to the CRTC, all were in favour of AJE except 40 parties who filed comments in opposition to bringing the broadcaster to Canada. Last fall, Open Media advocates celebrated the approval of the AJE application. The CRTC directly cites the input it received to back up its decision, showing once again that citizen input can sway the regulator to do the right thing.
While Canadians looked forward to having access to a new, independent public broadcaster in Canada, many worried that AJE would be unable to convince cable and satellite companies to carry the station. For many, the wait is over, as AJE officially began broadcasting in Canada on Bell TV, Rogers and Vidéotron on May 4 of this year. The best offering is from Videotron, which gives customers a three-month free preview of AJE until August 4 and AJE is part of every package the company offers. Cable and satellite customers can learn more about how to order the new channel by visiting IWantAJE.net
AJE will open a Canadian bureau this month and two journalists have already been hired. As big media seem increasingly unable or unwilling to invest in hard news and investigative journalism, this development couldn’t come at a better time. AJE offers a high standard of journalism and a diverse perspective that Canadians and the Canadian government need to hear.
While adding a dose of diversity and quality information to Canada’s concentrated media ecology is enough cause for celebration, how AJE pursues this market will make a big difference on its net effect. For example, if AJE pursues collaborations with Canada’s independent media outlets, it could provide a powerful leg up for organizations like Rabble.ca, StraightGoods, TheMark and others.
Imagine the power of a partnership where these online indie news outlets help AJE reach Canadians online, while AJE helps get these organizations out to TV viewers across the country. This sort of cross promotion could provide a new critical mass of readers for online independent media. If AJE takes on this role, it really could reinvigorate Canada’s media ecology.
This is a great win, but unless you’re a Videotron customer you’ll need to go out of your way to specifically order and pay extra for AJE. Rogers is only offering AJE à la carte in a test phase for $2.79/month (claiming it will consider packages once there is high customer demand); it is not included in any of its themed packages and it does not offer a free preview of the new channel. AJE is available at Bell TV à la carte for $3/month; it is also part of an international news package (though Bell is not advertising this inclusion) and there is no free preview. For us in the West, Shaw is not currently carrying it and Telus and AJE are still in negotiations.
Distributors (excluding Videotron) should take a number of actions, including those noted below, so Canadians can take advantage of this opportunity for improved quality and diversity of news coverage:
1) Offer customers a free preview of Al Jazeera English.
2) Offer Al Jazeera, not only à la carte or stand alone, but as part of themed packages such as news and learning packages, multicultural and other general and special packages.
3) Advertise the existence of the new channel on their website and other marketing endeavours.
It does not make sense to force Canadian customers who already pay for a huge number of channels to pay for AJE in addition to any of these packages, especially packages for news and other relevant themes.
TV subscribers should demand access to AJE from cable and Satellite companies. To find out how, visit http://openmedia.ca/aljazeera
Steve Anderson is the national coordinator for the Campaign for Democratic Media. He has written for The Tyee, Toronto Star, Epoch Times and Adbusters.