Prior restraint on al-Jazeera proves that Canada’s hate laws must be repealed

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“Let a thousand voices scream on our airwaves. Censor none, unless they break the hate laws. The more may not be merrier but they make for more diverse discourse and debate. That’s good for democracy. And anybody who claims otherwise is advocating censorship.”

— Antonia Zerbisias, Toronto Star, March 23, 2004

As we all know, what’s good for democracy is bad for the Jewish Lobby, so its role in sabotaging last month’s bid by cable companies to carry al-Jazeera should surprise no one. Yes, the CRTC approved the Arabic satellite channel, but set such onerous conditions on cable companies that the legal and financial risks of recording and monitoring all of al-Jazeera’s programs outweighed any potential benefits from new subscribers.

The problem concerns “abusive comment.” Though that expression is mentioned four times in the decision, it was not explicitly defined with respect to al-Jazeera. The CRTC made passing reference to the Broadcasting Act, in a bland, generic way but that’s all. If it had any qualms about al-Jazeera, the licence would have been denied.

I’ll return to this point later, but for the moment we need to understand that Al-Jazeera was prejudged to be a potential violator of Canadian Broadcasting Standards–”not because it might broadcast abusive language, but because it most definitely would present a non-zionist perspective on the Middle East.

Israel’s political influence in Canada depends largely on the Lobby’s ability to pressure politicians, intimidate journalists and propagate the myth of Israeli democracy and victimhood. Therefore, the Lobby cannot allow Canadians to see uncensored images of Israel’s inhumanity toward Palestinians. Bad show all ’round!

To placate the Lobby and avoid the charge of censorship, the CRTC hid behind Canada’s hate laws to impose prior restraint on cable companies, thus all but nullifying the licence approval.

“A licensee shall not broadcast any abusive comment that, when taken in context, tends to or is likely to expose an individual or a group or class of individuals to hatred or contempt on the basis of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, sexual orientation, age or mental or physical disability.”*

But not even this was good enough for B’nai Brith Canada: After the licence was “granted” Frank Dimant regurgitated the sanctimonious zionist mantra: “It is a sad state of affairs when an Arab-language network that is widely known for incorporating hateful messaging and anti-Semitic themes into its programming is granted a licence to operate here in Canada. Government officials say that anti-Semitism and bigotry will not be tolerated in this country. The CRTC ruling conveys just the opposite. It effectively provides official approval for incendiary programming to be broadcast.”– 

Of course, this statement is itself hateful and bigoted. Why is it necessary to say “Arab-language” network? Since most North Americans don’t speak Arabic, what difference does it make? As for “anti-Semitism,” that term is meaningless. Anyone who condemns Israeli atrocities and demands that Israel adhere to international law commits an anti-Semitic act.

Let’s say a cable company picked up al-Jazeera, which broadcast a report that argued Israel’s Wall amounts to an act of genocide. Faster than you could say Oy gevalt! the Lobby would sputter “hate crime!”; demand the cable company be charged with violating its terms of broadcast; and insist that al-Jazeera’s licence be pulled.

But wait. Section 3 (i) of the Broadcast Act mandates that programming “be varied and comprehensive, providing a balance of information, enlightenment and entertainment for men, women and children of all ages, interests and tastes [and] be drawn from local, regional, national and international sources…”

Surely, al-Jazeera, by providing an Arab balance in a thoroughly pro-Israel media climate, would be fulfilling this mission. In fact, the report’s claim of genocide would be entirely consistent with the definition in Section 318.2 of the Criminal Code of Canada and Article 6 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, e.g.:

“(a) Killing members of [any identifiable] group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part…” §

Nevertheless, a skilfull Lobby propaganda campaign would argue for the supremacy of Section 3 (b) of the Act. In short, depicting Israel’s conduct from an Arab perspective is by definition “abusive comment,” and that’s an a priori abuse of our Constitutional guarantee of freedom of opinion.

Inasmuch as the Lobby advocates selective censorship, the great threat to our freedoms, ironically, is our insidious hate laws. Notwithstanding their noble intent, they must be repealed, because if one group can abuse them to silence another group, they are useless.

Without a definition of “hate,” these laws are ideal for propagandists to make of them what they want. To commiserate with the plight of the Palestinians, to describe the world from Hamas’s point of view, to decry Israel’s clear violations of international law–”all these legitimate forms of expression can be condemned as hate speech.

Therefore, I endorse Antonia Zerbisias’s defence of free expression, but with one change: “Censor none, except in the case of libel.” Two days before the al-Jazeera decision, the CRTC refused to renew the licence of Quebec radio station CHOI-FM because of numerous complaints of defamatory, comments by hosts André Arthur and Jean-François Fillion.

Defamation is not a free-speech matter; it’s a legal matter that concerns libel. Yet the Lobby and its trained media seals latched onto this issue to condemn the CRTC for having a double standard. Take this morsel of imbecility from National Post columnist Colby Cosh:

“It’s all about free speech, isn’t it? At least, it’s about the orderly, clenched-rectum Canadian sort of free speech, which wouldn’t dream of making al-Jazeera wait for broadcast approval–”that might be racist–”but has no compunction whatsoever about revoking the licence of a radio station in Quebec City on explicitly political grounds.”**

Not only does Cosh flatly misrepresent the CRTC’s decision, and draw a false parallel, he never once mentions the misconduct of Arthur or Fillion. No, Mr. Cosh, it’s not about free speech–”it’s about libel versus legitimate news coverage.

As it is now, the CanWest media empire denigrates Arabs, misrepresents Arab culture and religion, and whitewashes Israel’s criminality as a matter of editorial policy. Why should Arab-Canadians not be allowed their own perspective? After all, al-Jazeera’s English service is already in the U.S., and its news is as close as the Internet ( http://english.aljazeera.net/).

That’s good for democracy.

Notes:

* Part 1.1, Section 3 (b), Radio Regulations, 1986.

–  “Jewish human rights group challenges CRTC’s approval of Al-Jazeera,” Press Release, July 15, 2004.

§ “Article 6,” Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, July 12, 1999 (as amended)

** Colby Cosh, “Canada’s Cultural Hypocrisy,” National Post, July 16, 2004.

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