TORONTO (CP) - Videotron, the Montreal-based cable company, has applied to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to have Al-Jazeera, the controversial Arab news channel, added to the list of international signals eligible for carriage in Canada.
"Yes, we have applied to get that (channel)," confirms Lise Gagne, a Videotron spokeswoman. "It's really in the hands of the CRTC." Gagne added that the application was submitted based on research conducted by Al-Jazeera representatives that concluded there was customer demand.
A CRTC spokesperson would not officially confirm the February application nor say how long any decision would take but added that there would have to be a public notice posted first. If approved, Al-Jazeera would then be available to all other carriers in Canada, cable or DTH satellite.
One Canadian TV network news director says the Arab-Canadian community is heavily into the satellite black market because the only way to get Al-Jazeera is via DirecTV, the American service not authorized in this country.
The Qatar-based Al-Jazeera is known as the Arabic CNN and boasts it is providing balanced coverage of the war in Iraq. It has also been criticized by the Bush administration for carrying graphic news video of slain and captured U.S. soldiers.
Ron MacInnes, communications director for the Bell ExpressVu DTH service, says it might consider carrying Al-Jazeera if the channel is approved by the CRTC, but that there has not been noticeable demand from customers to date.
"We're a market-driven organization, so clearly if there's a demand for it we'd take a serious look at it," MacInnes says. "But Al-Jazeera hasn't come up."
Taanta Gupta, communications vice-president for Rogers Cable, adds that there has not been a huge demand for the Arab channel there, either.
With more than one million customers, Quebecor-owned Videotron is Quebec's largest cable company.
© The Canadian Press, 2003