ICYMI: Dole out funding for COVID-19 ads soon, say experts, as ethnic media outlets face cash crunch

Of note as there is a percentage of the visible minority and immigrant population that ethnic media has greater reach than mainstream media:

As Ottawa looks to reach communities that do not speak English or French during the COVID-19 pandemic by buying ad space in some ethnic and Indigenous media outlets, one expert fears these news organizations could come “under the gun” in the next few weeks if ads are not rolled out soon.

“The viability and sustainability of ethnic media is under the gun,” said Madeline Ziniak, chair of the Canadian Ethnic Media Association. “We’ve been hearing from our membership [who say] that, ‘I don’t know if we can sustain another month, another month and a half, and things are getting very difficult.’ ”

Like many other mainstream and independent news outlets, ad revenues for ethnic media have begun to evaporate, with the mass closure of restaurants and other businesses that place ads.

On March 11, as part of its $1-billion COVID-19 aid package, the government said it would dedicate $50-million to the Public Health Agency of Canada’s  national public education campaign. Health Canada spokesperson Eric Morrissette said in an email on April 1 the goal was“to encourage the adoption of personal protective behaviours.”

About $30-million of that funding is set aside for advertising in 15 different languages: French, English, Italian, Farsi, Mandarin, Tagalog, Punjabi, Spanish, Arabic, Tamil, Urdu, Korean, Hindi, Inuktitut, and Cree.

According to the 2016 census, 7.6 million Canadians speak a language other than French and English at home, amounting to 14.5 per cent of the population. The Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages listed Mandarin, Cantonese, and Punjabi among the top five languages in the country, along with French and English.

Mr. Morrissette wrote that French and English ads have already begun airing, along with some radio ads in Farsi, Italian, and Mandarin.

Those three languages were chosen “based on the need to urgently share information in communities with links to countries where travel health notices were in place at the time of production,” but did not specify when those ads were produced, and which outlets had begun running them.

He also did not specify which newspapers will be running the ads in the remaining languages. The government’s list, he said, “is evolving because some publishers of content in languages other than English or French have suspended or closed operations because of COVID-19.”

Ms. Ziniak said the association has a database of 1,300 media entities “in languages other than English and French across Canada,” which could be useful for the government in its efforts.

“We’ve lobbied for a long time that there should be a relevant and updated database list of who’s out there,” she added. “And now, we’re in a situation where people are scrambling, and we’re offering our services as a nonprofit, free, volunteer organization.”

Mr. Morissette wrote that the languages for print ads were chosen based on the “top ethnic languages spoken in Canada,” and that consideration was given to the “availability and reach of the outlets in these languages.”

He did not provide a timeline for when the newspaper ads will begin appearing, nor specify the metrics for what the reach needs to be for such outlets.

He noted that the government is sharing fact sheets and infographics “in a variety of languages” online. One resource listing preventative measures that can be taken in the workplace, for example, is available for download in Bengali, Dutch, Gujrati, Vietnamese, and Somali.

According to Andrew Griffith, a former senior director in the government’s immigration department, there is an urgency with which the government should begin rolling out ads to target non-English and French speakers.

“I think you have to work on the assumption that not everybody is receiving the messages,” Mr. Griffith said in a phone interview this week. “The ethnic media, by and large, does not aim at second-generation Canadians. It basically is for the immigrant ones, and there are some that have limited knowledge of English or French.”

While he said the messaging around social distancing measures from ministers, the prime minister, and public health authorities has been “pretty  clear and consistent for the last week or 10 days,” thanks to daily press briefings, he added that “getting [ads in] ethnic media out in another 10 days, means you’ve probably missed the boat.”

In an effort to reach some of their constituents, some MPs like Liberals Omar Alghabra (Mississauga Centre, Ont.) and Salma Zahid (Scarborough Centre, Ont.) have shared their own online messages in Arabic and Urdu, respectively.

“It’s important that we get the message across to everyone. Sometimes there are language barriers, sometimes our seniors don’t understand English or French,” said Ms. Zahid in a phone interview.

Ms. Zahid, who herself was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer in 2018, said she is encouraging “community leaders” to similarly put out messages on COVID-19 in Tagalog, Tamil, Bengali, and Gujarati, which are spoken prominently in her riding.

Former MP Olivia Chow suggested that if the government is running broadcast ads, it should consider featuring prominent voices within Chinese-speaking communities, for instance.

“If they want the ads to be amplified, having community partners of each of those language groups would be useful,” said Ms. Chow in a phone interview, listing Dr. Joseph Wong as an example. A physician and philanthropist, Dr. Wong founded the Toronto-based Yee Hong Centre for Geriatric Care in 1987 and was chair for the United Way of Greater Toronto from 1990 and 1992.

“Different people [who speak] different languages from different communities have different spokespersons, that could know their media market and social media very well,” said Ms. Chow.

Daniel Ahadi, a Simon Fraser University professor in B.C. who studies ethnicity and media, suggested that funding could also be shared with community organizations like settlement agencies.

That would allow groups “to do outreach on their own terms, because I think most ethnic community organizations, they’re quite well-established within ethnic communities, and they have a broad network and can navigate those using email lists, newsletters, and other formats they’ve been using over the years,” he said in a phone interview this week.

But Andrés Machalski, president of media-monitoring firm MIREMS, which has worked with the Canadian Blood Services, Canada Post, and other federal departments in the past, cautioned against such an approach. The firm translates reports from a range of ethnic media outlets.

“I respect what agencies are doing, but you’re looking at an information distribution and communications program, not a help program,” he said in a phone interview.  “This is a journalistic job, a propaganda job, an advertising job, not a social service organization. And the people who are working there, are devoted to hands-on attention, [finding] solutions to problems. They don’t have people to go out and hand out flyers.”

Mr. Machalski later added that some shows, including  one hosted in Punjabi by B.C.-based Harjinder Singh Thind, explore multiple angles of the outbreak, such as details around wage subsidies and repatriation efforts. The show also has “a Punjabi speaking doctor come in almost daily to talk about COVID-19 and clarify any misinformation,” he wrote.

Mr. Machalski said that as of March 31, MIREMS tracked 650 stories under its health stream alone since the outbreak began, and noted that some outlets depend on taking existing stories from mainstream outlets and translate them for their own audiences, a pattern Ms. Ziniak said she too noted in her membership.

Ms. Ziniak also pointed to reports that noted some religious institutions, including some mosques, remained open last week, despite calls from public health officials to limit gatherings to contain the spread of the virus.

Over the past few weeks, officials from multiple levels of government have told Canadians to limit gatherings to under 50 people, a number that has since dropped to five, in the case of Ontario. According to CBC, one imam said some people may believe that “50 is a loophole in the law,” as some mosques tried to limit the number of worshippers to below 50 at the time.

“The seriousness of the situation has to be conveyed to a trusted source,” Ms. Ziniak said.

Source:  already under financial strain

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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