The outliers of Canadian media

Similar to other commentary but would benefit from an overall discussion of the media financial situation and shrinking employment, enrolment in j-schools (appears to be about 20 percent visible minorities), and the replication of much mainstream focussing on the words, not the record.

And if one cites the percentage of the population that is visible minority, use the 2016 number, not the 2011 one:

Last week, after the trifecta of images were released of Trudeau in blackface and brownface, a group of journalists of colour—Tanya Talaga, Manisha Krishnan and Anita Li—discussed the lack of diversity in Canadian newsrooms on CBC’s The Current.

Due to the lack of visible-minority voices reporting on Trudeau’s blackface, they all agreed, the story, which was really about systemic racism in Canada, was reduced to plain outrage. Rather than giving readers the context they needed to understand the prejudices that people of colour have faced historically and continue to face now, what the public got instead, was a political spin on Trudeau’s actions.

In other words, How would Trudeau’s blackface affect him in the upcoming election? 

For Krishnan, a senior writer for Vice, the questions directed to Trudeau at the media scrum post-blackface were the most frustrating. “There was really no one asking him, ‘Okay, you didn’t think it was racist, what were you thinking? Walk us through your thought process. Why would you think this was an appropriate thing to do?’” she said.

It’s largely about how the Canadian media covers race, Li added, explaining that one of the reasons she relocated stateside was because U.S. media has more of a willingness to publish stories that unpack the nuances of race. It is part lived experience, and part education, she explained.

The stats on newsroom diversity are grossly out-dated, and uncomfortable to examine: In 2006, only 3.4 per cent of people in newsrooms were people of colour. The fact that there’s been no concerted effort to publish current statistics on diversity trends in media signals an even greater concern—while newsroom diversity is abysmal, we’re idle, and simply too embarrassed to address it.

So what does it take for a person of colour, from an under-privileged home, to make it into a national newsroom? A lot. It’s a combination of both what you did and where you were—personal motivation and external circumstances. The handful—if that—of coloured faces in each newsroom you see are outliers. Don’t believe anyone who tells you otherwise.

I grew up in Thorncliffe Park, an area in Toronto’s East York, wedged between the Danforth and the more wealthy Leaside neighbourhood. Thorncliffe Park is a cul-de-sac of apartment buildings where, in the early 90s, an influx of Filipino immigrants settled. My cousins lived in the buildings across from me. Our church—St. Edith Stein—was majority Filipino. My dad and my uncles sat inside East York Town Centre on Saturday mornings, sipping coffee and telling stories in Tagalog.

The cul-de-sac was split in half: if you lived on one side, you attended school on the Danforth, if you lived on the other, you went to school in Leaside. Our building fed into Leaside. At St. Anselm, the student population was about 40 per cent Filipino, 60 per cent white.

There, I was schooled on the opportunities afforded to white people. My white classmates, most of whom had fathers who were doctors, lawyers, business owners and mothers who stayed at home, operated with a sense of unconscious certainty. Their upbringings provided them a firm sense of place in Canadian society. This even trickled into the way teachers and parents addressed the kids—you were either a “Leasider,” or not.

I’m no Malcolm Gladwell, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume that—for a child who is 10 years old—having an awareness of economic opportunity by way of your parents correlates with job success later in life. And that’s the inherent advantage white people have in journalism. It’s a career that’s foreseeable in their worldview. Meanwhile, journalism for first-generation immigrant children is like one of those secrets you want to keep from your parents; it’s not part of the conversation at home, nor do you want to bring it up.

It was during my time at St. Anselm that I became acquainted with the term “white-washed”—people of colour who speak, dress and act like they’re white. I first recall my own intuitive white-washing when I spent the time in the homes of friends in Leaside. Inside their carefully decorated houses, I did everything not to highlight how I was different, and instead sought to prove that I was just like them.

The white-washing I subjected myself to as a child, is akin to the way in which I operated at the start of my career in media—showcasing my degrees rather than my personal perspective, listing off my bylines rather than the subject matter I’m passionate about (one being immigrant issues), and dumbing down the core reason why we need more people like me in journalism: If I don’t give the 850,000 Filipinos across Canada—the third-largest Asian-Canadian group in the country—a voice, who will?

In June, CBC and Radio-Canada’s broadcasting division announced a new commitment to diversity across their broadcasting arm. By 2025, they wrote in a press release, the company aims to have at least one key creative—producer, director, showrunner and lead performer—from a diverse background in all its programs. I’d argue that more must be done to radicalize diversity targets across all media.

This starts with having internship programs where at least 50 per cent of interns are people of colour. When it comes to securing a full-time gig in journalism, landing an entry-level role like an internship, is the first of many barriers to entry. By diversifying these jobs, we can ensure an ongoing funnel of young, visible-minority journalists making their way into national newsrooms.

Another idea is to have at least one key decision-making position at large news organizations be filled by a person of colour—and ideally, they’d have hiring authority. It’s one way to tackle what we know as the ‘similarity bias,’ which in the case of journalism and media, is the revolving door of white reporters hired by a majority-white management.

At Maclean’s, while our writers come from a number of backgrounds, the number of ethnic minorities on staff falls below 19.1 per cent,[note: 2016 census number is 22.3 percent] the percentage of people in Canada who identify as a member of a visible minority group, according to Statistics Canada. So instead of hiding from stats, shouldn’t we give these numbers a hard look and ask ourselves: Is Canada truly represented here?

Source: The outliers of Canadian media

Canadian media lacks nuance, depth on racial issues

Part of the Policy Options elections series. I have flagged to Anita Li, some of the weaknesses in her arguments:

  • Voter turnout: StatsCan analysis comparing Canadian-born versus long-term and recent immigrants in the 2015 and 2011 elections shows that the gap has shrunk (2007 data not relevant).
  • 2011:  77.4 percent Canadian-born, 70.7 percent established immigrants, 55.7 percent recent immigrants
  • 2015: 76 percent Canadian-born, 75.9 percent established immigrants, 70.1 percent recent immigrants
  • There is considerable variation based upon country of origin.

My sense is that the issue lies more with the financial and business model of media, and consequent reduced local and other news, which applies to all Canadians, whether visible minority or not.

My work with which allows me to analyze ethnic media election coverage indicates that ethnic media is less ghettoized than Li suggests, largely mirroring mainstream coverage (spoiler alert for future article).

As to the diversity of journalists, given the number of visible minorities in j-schools and the buy-outs of senior journalists, expect that diversity will improve but not as quickly given the financial struggles of the industry:

Newsrooms in Canada are disproportionately white. This inequity means Canadian news coverage is less inclusive and therefore not truly representative of our country’s racial diversity. We’ve known all this for years, and still — despite the approach of the next federal election — establishment journalism organizations have not taken steps to address this worrying gap in a meaningful and systemic way. One consequence is lower voter turnout among people of colour.

The media is a pillar of democracy. Numerous studies reveal how an erosion in local news weakens civic engagement. Research suggests people who consume local news regularly are more likely to vote and participate in civic activities. But the spate of local publication closures in nearly 200 Canadian communities over the past decade has left a vacuum for misinformation to fill, compromised journalists’ ability to hold government accountable and resulted in more polarized communities where neighbours don’t trust each other.

These studies focus on geographic communities. But there’s scant research into how news poverty impacts racialized communities or geographic communities that are majority-minority, such as Scarborough, a suburb of more than 600,000 in the Greater Toronto Area where people of colour make up 73 percent of the total population. That’s concerning.

Why? According to a 2018 report from the UNC Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media, news deserts tend to be around areas whose residents are poorer, less well-educated and older than people in other communities. News poverty impacts inner-city neighbourhoods and suburbs as well as sparsely populated rural and interior regions, the report says.

It’s not a stretch to extrapolate findings from geographically focused research on news deserts and apply them to underserved racialized communities. If you don’t see yourself reflected in the news, and you don’t see the connection between your community and policy issues, how motivated would you be to vote? How convinced would you be that you could effect change in your country — especially if the media rarely bothers to portray your perspective?

Of course, as many detractors of diversity and inclusion efforts have commonly but pointlessly argued, ethnic groups are not monolithic and have a diversity of thought, and race is just one pillar of a person’s identity. But few markers of identity are visible beyond race, and systemic racism is pervasive in Canada. Members of particular ethnic groups, especially visible-minority groups, will have shared experiences by virtue of their skin colour.

Ethnic media doesn’t even reflect citizens like me, a second-generation Canadian-born Chinese whose native language is English. To me, ethnic media is for my immigrant parents’ generation, not my friends and peers who grew up here.

There are ethnic media outlets in Canada, but they’re ghettoized in a two-tier system, where establishment media is seen as more legitimate and also seemingly absolved of covering issues that matter to immigrant Canadians in an in-depth way. Beyond that, ethnic media doesn’t even reflect citizens like me, a second-generation Canadian-born Chinese whose native language is English. To me, ethnic media is for my immigrant parents’ generation, not my friends and peers who grew up here. Unfortunately, these two audiences have been traditionally conflated, so there’s a gaping hole where news coverage should be for young, diverse Canadians.

Keeping this lack of relevant media presence and Canada’s long history of excluding people of colour from voting in mind, it’s no wonder eligible voters from some non-European communities have voted at lower rates than members of European communities, according to a 2007 Elections Canada study. Citing data from the Ethnic Diversity Survey of Statistics Canada, Elections Canada also reports that rates of voter participation are higher among foreign-born than Canadian-born people of colour.

Low voter turnout among people of colour will become a bigger problem for Canada if we don’t address it soon. StatsCan reports that among the country’s working-age population (ages 15 to 64), 20 percent identified themselves as “visible minority” in 2011 — a number that could double to nearly 40 percent by 2036.

When it comes to authentic pluralism, there’s a significant disconnect between how Canada perceives and portrays itself and what’s actually happening in this country.

Canada was the first country in the world to adopt multiculturalism as an official policy, in 1971, and it’s globally recognized as an arbiter of pluralism, so we tend to rest on our laurels regarding issues of race. It’s why, for so long, neither government nor the media seriously grappled with the country’s evolving cultural identity. Because there’s a sense that we’ve “achieved” multiculturalism in theory, Canadian political and media institutions are complacent and don’t frequently entertain conversations about our evolving cultural identity — much less move them forward. When it comes to authentic pluralism, there’s a significant disconnect between how Canada perceives and portrays itself and what’s actually happening in this country.

The 1971 Canadian Multiculturalism Policy and subsequent 1988 Canadian Multiculturalism Act, which came about after Canada became the first country in the world to pass a national multiculturalism law, were significant milestones. But they’ve had the sanitizing effect of falsely casting us as a perfect multicultural haven and as a foil to our unstable neighbour, America, with its unmanageable race problems.

In fact, contrary to popular belief, we’re far behind the United States in our discussions of race in the public sphere. Despite the extreme polarization in America, there’s an institutional and public willingness to talk about these issues that opens up dialogue and breaks down barriers. In Canada, we ignore the problem, so silos persist. In addition, this false sense that Canada is post-racial often has the effect of gaslighting people from racialized communities who continue to face discrimination today.

Given our British colonial past, Canada has a long history of defining its identity in terms of how un-American we are, so we resist embracing our neighbour’s practices for fear of surrendering to American cultural hegemony. But what is Canadian culture? Before the Second World War, it was synonymous with British and French culture, but that perception failed to take into account the tens of thousands of years of Indigenous cultures that predated Canada’s colonization. In fact, we didn’t have a clear, unified national identity of our own until after the war — and even now, it’s not one that all Canadians have embraced.

When it comes to filling in gaps in coverage for racialized communities in Canada, outlets here would be wise to follow in American media’s footsteps. Resistance to including these other narratives will only push Canadians into the arms of US publications — which have much more robust coverage of people of colour — and, ironically, put Canada on a path toward greater American cultural influence. We must evolve.

With Canada facing a rising populist tide and the incendiary language that tends to come with it, October’s election is an opportunity for all Canadian media to call things as they are. For example, journalists shouldn’t use “racially charged” or similar euphemisms when “racist” is more appropriate. The values underpinning multiculturalism are enshrined in our Constitution under section 27, so rather than seeking “balance,” the media must hold our leaders to account by challenging views and policies that are unconstitutional. The world, including Canada, is experiencing a historic moment that necessitates adversarial watchdog journalism.

The media should also move beyond reactive coverage of race that stokes outrage for outrage’s sake. Instead of a “he said, she said” style of reporting, journalists should provide context that breaks down Canada’s history of systemic racism and analyze how party policies will affect specific racialized communities (for example, they should examine why Indigenous communities are particularly vulnerable to climate change).

Outside of the election, the media should strive to capture the lived experiences of Canadians of colour (which, it’s important to note, are quite different from the experiences of Americans of colour). They should also keep up their recent increase in coverage of reconciliation and Canada’s Black Lives Matter movement. But I don’t want to see only stories of outrage — they paint a limited, black-and-white picture of racialized communities. I also want to see the nuanced spaces in between, where most people of colour live their lives: an intersectional take on climate change in Canada through a racial justice lens; a look at the historical contributions of Canadians of colour and how they impact us today; a deep dive into how second-generation Canadians are preserving their ancestors’ dying languages.

The media here must stop talking about Canada as if it’s an Anglo monoculture and start reflecting the multiculturalism that we proudly lay claim to but seldom live up to.

Source: Canadian media lacks nuance, depth on racial issues