A cultural policy that overlooks multiculturalism [media focus]

George Abraham, publisher of New Canadian Media, on the need for broader and more diverse journalism (disclosure: I assisted George and New Canadian Media during its early years):

For a multicultural country, we have a rather monocultural media landscape. Our newsrooms and media organizations no longer reflect their audiences.  Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly missed an opportunity to make a policy intervention that would have at least nudged some reform.

Canada’s multicultural media has been decimated in recent years.  There were budget cuts in multicultural programming at the Rogers-owned OMNI Television. A promising media enterprise that published a string of multicultural and community newspapers went under in 2013. It was ironic that the Mississauga-based Multicultural Nova Corporation was being subsidized by the Italian government. These and other outlets help Canadians weave a shared narrative around what it means to be Canadian, at a time when our “ethno-cultural” (to use a favourite expression of bureaucrats) makeup is rapidly changing. Our ethnic media remain as fragmented and resource-strapped as ever.

“Canada’s ethnic and third-language communities do not have access to enough news and information programming in multiple languages from a Canadian perspective,” the chairman of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) Jean-Pierre Blais said in May.

The fact is, Canada is rapidly changing before our eyes, but we continue to sleepwalk through this transformation.

While media organizations and journalism schools appear to have given up measuring the representation of minorities in newsrooms (the last credible industry-wide study was in 2004), the government is aware that this lack of representation is a major handicap for new immigrants. A June 2014 study titled “Evidence-based Levels and Mix: Absorptive Capacity” (bureaucratese for how well Canada integrates its immigrants) stated categorically: “There is no clear commitment to achieving diversity in Canada’s newsrooms or in Canadian news content.” (The study was commissioned by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, and it was released under the Access to Information Act.)

The government’s new cultural policy did little to shift the conversation to the emerging media players who are redefining journalism for a new era. It failed to state the obvious: a shrinking cohort of media organizations that have monopolized national discourse are headed for irrelevance, because neither their audience nor their newsrooms are reflective of Canada at large.

This lopsided media structure means that folks like me don’t get to tell our own stories on our own terms. Somebody else uses the lens of their lived experience to interpret our immigrant stories. A cultural and content policy written in 2017 ought to have been much more mindful of this shift – roughly 40 percent of Canadians are either foreign-born or the children of immigrants (the bulk of them have Asian roots, like Jagmeet Singh). The minister should have outlined specific goals to foster and sustain the kind of journalism that reflects a new Canada where the rise of a sardar (turbaned Sikh) is not a leap of faith, but a fact of life.

I write this as somebody who is well aware of the perils of “government support.” Not all governments are benign actors. In Dubai, the owners of the newspaper where I once worked found themselves on the wrong side of the ruling family. We had a dedicated “reporter” whose job was to relay diktats from the government to the editor. At another outlet in Doha, the newspaper was owned by the country’s then foreign minister. It was my job as managing editor to walk the gauntlet between censorship and shackled freedom. The country even had a director of censorship, who subsequently became the editor-in-chief of an Arabic language newspaper.

Not all journalists welcome government support. The Canadian nonprofit media organization that I run has lost editors who couldn’t live with any form of government funding. We’ve viewed these grants – including those from the Canada Periodical Fund – as seed money for an enterprise that serves the collective public good. I’d like to think that we exist because we fulfill a need. Joly missed an opportunity to signal a shift of tax dollars towards content that enables new players to take advantage of gaps in the marketplace of ideas.

I also know first-hand that editors and newsroom managers are loath to take the bold steps that will change the demographics of their newsrooms. There’s a lot of lip service being done out there and little concrete action. The cultural industries policy statement could have made a big difference by offering incentives to correct this imbalance and foster the growth of alternative media platforms that cater to niche markets.

Instead, the headline coming out of the policy statement was focused on Netflix and its promise to make investments in Canadian productions, as if this would in some way feed this country’s desperate need for a new narrative and a new conversation. Entertainment seemed to take precedence over journalism in the policy announcement, although both embody the stories we tell ourselves and the stories we tell the rest of the world.

However, fact is more important than fiction. Facts are sacrosanct and the need of the hour. The phenomenon of “fake news” can only be addressed by true and tested journalism. The opinions of Canadians need to be shaped by solid, on-the-ground reporting done by journalists who are embedded in their communities and share the lived experience of the places they call home. This includes newcomer journalists who offer unique perspectives about their communities and are informed by the day-to-day trials that immigrants face in buying or renting homes, finding employment, enrolling their children in schools and becoming full members of the society around them. There is a public interest in ensuring that their voices are heard, not just through niche media and ethnic platforms but also in legacy newsrooms.

The federal government has rightly supported Canadian culture and content since the days of the Massey Commission in 1951. A Canada of 35 million people, or an imagined one of 100 million, will live or die on the ties that bind its people together. Old-fashioned journalism ought to be the bedrock of a more globalized, more multicultural Canada.

Source: A cultural policy that overlooks multiculturalism

Diaspora Dialogues Gives Emerging Writers a Voice

Good initiative given the power of story telling and writing. CanLit includes a number of strong immigrant and visible minority writers (e.g., Bissoondath, Vassanji, Ondaatje, Hage, Hill):

New writers are using mentorship opportunities to create and share more diverse and inclusive stories about Toronto’s history and culture.

“What we want to do is to create a living history of Toronto through literature [and] make it as diverse as the city itself,” says Helen Walsh, the president of Diaspora Dialogues  – a charitable society made up of writers, artists and performers.

“I’m not surprised that there are at least 50 to 60 countries represented through Diaspora Dialogues – lots of voices from Asia, Africa and Northern Europe,” Walsh adds. “Often, people write about their own cultural background and we want to bring Toronto to life through literature.”

Mentoring new writers

Toronto’s iconic Old City Hall, a national historic site, was the stage for Diaspora Dialogues during Doors Open Toronto, an event that offers access to buildings with historical significance across the city.

“Often, people write about their own cultural background and we want to bring Toronto to life through literature.”

Jamaican-born and Ottawa-raised emerging writer Dianah Smith is one of 12 writers who presented their work at Old City Hall. As a teacher and arts educator, Smith joined Diaspora Dialogues in 2014 for its mentoring program, in which she paired-up with Jamaican-Canadian writer and media professional Martin Mordecai.

“For about six months, he helped me to get into [a] schedule of my draft and first novel, finalizing some of the scenes of my manuscript to get it ready for publication,” Smith says about her experience as a mentee.

“It’s a story about a seven-year-old girl, Jemela Campbell, and her experience in immigrating from Jamaica to Canada and her first year in Canada,” Smith explains.

The excerpt she reads is from the novel, with a working title The Promise of Foreign, which explores some of the challenges newcomer parents face in Canada such as finding work and keeping jobs.

Seeking recognition as writers

“As a racialized person of colour, as an immigrant, you don’t really feel represented in the publishing world,” Smith explains. “You have names like Margaret Atwood, mainly white and middle-class people.”

She says that while Diaspora Dialogues does not restrict white writers from participating, it also tries “to have alternative voices to give immigrants and indigenous people the opportunity to share their stories.”

Author Mia Herrera adds that working in the Canadian publishing and writing industry is precarious.

“A writer who publishes regularly makes a salary of about $12,000 a year. You can’t make a living on that,” she says.

Born to Filipino parents, Herrera now lives in Bradford, Ont. She works in communications and marketing and says she continues to write because it is her passion.

Smith says she is still in the process of finding an interested publisher for her novel. While her mentorship program ended last fall, she continues to participate in other programs led by Diaspora Dialogues such as Lunch and Learn events, workshops about pitching to agents, as well as mentee book readings such as the one at Old City Hall.

Source: Diaspora Dialogues Gives Emerging Writers a Voice – New Canadian Media

A Current Snapshot of Canadian Multiculturalism – Review of my book

From the first review of Multiculturalism in Canada: Evidence and Anecdote, by Don Curry, Executive Director, North Bay & District Multicultural Centre, in New Canadian Media:

Griffith has the credentials for writing a comprehensive book of this nature. The author of Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias: Resetting Citizenship and Multiculturalism, he is the former director general for citizenship and multiculturalism at Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

As someone leading an organization that is active in integration issues, I encourage anyone involved in citizenship, multiculturalism, immigration and integration issues to read this book to keep current with the latest available information, and perhaps alter some perceptions.

The only complaint I have about the depth of research is that it left out my corner of Canada – northern Ontario – and lumped it in with southern Ontario.

But I know why: it’s because, as Griffith notes, the National Household Survey of 2011 left a lot of gaps when it attempted to drill down to smaller census areas. He strengthens the argument for the return of the long-form census.

The evidence Griffith uses in the book is irrefutable, combining the best currently available data from Statistics Canada, employment equity, Citizenship and Immigration Canada operational statistics, and more to draw his conclusions.

As Griffith says, “My hope is that the evidence highlighted in this book will contribute to creating a more informed discourse as Canada – by most measures a remarkably successful, diverse and multicultural society – prepares for its 150th anniversary.”

Multiculturalism in Canada is an e-book modestly priced to reach a wide audience – and it deserves one.

A Current Snapshot of Canadian Multiculturalism – New Canadian Media.

Ethnic and Multicultural Media Training Offered

One of the more interesting initiatives from New Canadian Media. Letter from publisher George Abraham to current and developing journalists:

Dear fellow journalist,

Greetings from Ottawa!

It is an honour for me to roll out Canada’s first nation-wide training program aimed specifically at journalists who work with “ethnic” or “multicultural” media organizations.

This accompanying questionnaire will help us determine locations and the specific workshops we will offer. All the information you provide is confidential and will only be used for research and training purposes.

These in-person training sessions build on our successful mentoring program, launched in February, as part of seeking out “new voices”.

Here is some more information that may be helpful:

This training program will be offered free-of-cost and is funded through a federal government grant

NCM will offer up to three individual workshops (two hours each) in each location. Topics for the workshops will be chosen based on responses to the questionnaire

Workshops will most likely be hosted at the nearest journalism school, subject to space availability

A light lunch and refreshments will be provided to all participants

I’d be more than happy to respond to any questions you may have relating to your participation. And, please do forward the questionnaire to your friends as well.

Ethnic and Multicultural Media Training  – New Canadian Media.

What Jonathan Kay Has Wrong About Diversity in Journalism

On diversity (lack thereof) within the media:

In a recent appearance on Jesse Brown’s Canadaland podcast, newly installed Walrus editor Jonathan Kay discussed with Brown the homogeneity of the people writing for that magazine (and other mainstream outlets) in the country. Most of the young writers he meets, Kay said, are “people who grew up in privileged households.” The typical pattern, he added, is that writing is something young people do on their way to law school.

Increasing diversity in workplaces will require leadership, risk-taking and time. It will require creating opportunities for younger, less proven journalists to take on assignments more challenging than what they’ve done before.

Kay or anyone else in a management position who just throws up his hands when confronted with the diversity conundrum should come visit the Etobicoke college campus where I teach—or just about any other journalism school in the country.

Canada’s journalism schools, not to mention independent campus newspapers and radio stations, are filled with people from almost every imaginable background—people trying to enter a field where job opportunities seem to be dwindling and salaries are stagnating. This is not because they don’t understand the situation but because they are passionate about what journalism, at its best, can and should do.

There is no reliable data specific to Canada that I’m aware of to support or refute this—there doesn’t seem to be much after former Ryerson professor John Miller’s Diversity Watch project which hasn’t been updated in 10 years—but a perception exists that there is a disparity in who gets jobs. “Journalism schools are pumping out so many visible minorities and plenty of women, and they do not get jobs the way white kids do,” Hazlitt managing editor Scaachi Koul was quoted by J-Source as saying at a recent Massey College Press Club event in Toronto on the generational gap in Canadian journalism.

…If Kay’s assertion that there are very few good essayists in the country is true, then why not use his position, resources and experience to develop new voices? Instead, when Brown asked Kay to name some people he would like to add to the Walrus’s roster, two of the three people he mentioned were Conrad Black and Rex Murphy—both of whom are exemplars of the status quo. (Not to mention bad writers.)

Kay’s comments are a perfect example of what Don Heider was writing about: someone who is not necessarily opposed to change but has no good reason, personally, professionally or politically, to act.

To give credit where credit is due, The Walrus, with Jon Kay’s support, has been particularly helpful in providing advice to New Canadian Media.

What Jonathan Kay Has Wrong About Diversity in Journalism – New Canadian Media – NCM.

New Anti-terrorism Bill May Fragment Community Relationships

Graham Hudson, in New Canadian Media, makes the valid point that much of the rhetoric and reality of C-51 may reduce the resilience within communities to combat radicalization and undermine some of the outreach efforts of the various police and security forces, key to increasing resilience:

The proposed advocacy or promotion of terrorism offence, for instance, will have a “chilling effect” on the communication of political and religious ideas within the Muslim community. While at first glance it may be seen as a net gain from the government’s perspective, fear of being associated with criminal activity may discourage community members from talking to each other about the issue of radicalization, interacting with high-risk persons in an effort to counter radicalization, or reporting information to police.  This will negatively impact the internal social dynamics of communities, including the viability of community-based programs, self-regulation and other means of “collective efficacy” that have been shown to help counter radicalization and facilitate integration into broader social networks.

New Anti-terrorism Bill May Fragment Community Relationships – New Canadian Media – NCM.

Ottawa Conference Addresses Key Citizenship Questions – New Canadian Media – NCM

Summary of the recent Canadian Race Relations Foundation symposium on citizenship:

The focus of the symposium was clearly on the meaning of Canadian citizenship and the role of Canadian identity in the context of immigrants and newcomers to Canada. This was discussed in several sessions, such as whether new Canadians were “importing conflict” from other regions into Canada, if multi-faith based organizations were impacting positively on greater co-existence between different communities, the role of the media in reflecting diversity, and most controversially, the role of religion, most notably Islam, and the rise of extremism in Canada.

Divisions were clearly etched in this latter discussion, where there was both a call for greater awareness raising and education among both adults and the youth on issues of extremism and racial discrimination, as well as accepting the reality of a changing global security scenario. Law enforcement agencies such as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police RCMP and provincial police forces have particularly been the focus of attention in trying to sensitize their officers in working with diverse and multi-faith communities in countering cases of radicalization.

From a psychological and human perspective, speakers suggested that violence should be seen as a function of human vulnerability and personal behaviour, rather than associated with a particular group or belief system. Almost all presenters belonging to various diverse communities had personal stories to share about their experiences in Canada with racial discrimination. However, it was clear that there is still far to go in bridging this divide.

The takeaway from the symposium was that change, especially positive change, takes time. For the 250,000 immigrants welcomed to Canada annually, the message from the government was one of integration.  But the message was not limited to only newcomers. Those born in Canada also need to be aware and understand the responsibilities associated with citizenship. For this, the work of both small community groups and large government organizations were considered to be equally important in creating a tolerant and secure Canada.

The panel I moderated, on the role Canadian values have in improving community resilience against extremism, certainly had a wide and diverse range of views from those who proposed cutting back immigration from certain countries to those focusing on social inclusion.

Ottawa Conference Addresses Key Citizenship Questions – New Canadian Media – NCM.

Conservatives received most election coverage in GTA ethnic newspapers – New Canadian Media – NCM

Interesting but not surprising research:

[April] Lindgren’s research, which will be published in the December 2014 issue of the Canadian Journal of Political Science, focused on coverage of the 2011 federal election in five ethnocultural publications in the Greater Toronto Area – the Russian Express, Korea Times Daily, Canadian Punjabi Post, Punjabi Daily and Ming Pao. All are daily publications except for the weekly Russian Express. The study concluded that while there was no overwhelming pattern of stories or photos skewed explicitly in favour of the Conservatives, the party did benefit in that more of its politicians were featured in photographs, it was the sole focus of more stories and photos than its competitors, and it was mentioned first most frequently in news coverage.

“The degree to which a candidate or party can consistently earn first mentions in stories…is a measure of campaign effectiveness in that it means party strategists are choosing the topic and framing the discussion, leaving the competition to react in later paragraphs,” Lindgren observed in the paper, entitled “Toronto-area ethnic newspapers and Canada’s 2011 federal election: An investigation of content, focus and partisanship.”

Lindgren said she was interested in investigating election coverage in the ethnic media because language barriers have limited the amount of research done in this area. During the 2011 election, the Conservative Party, in particular, also launched a media strategy that targeted ethnic communities, because a “growing number of ridings in and around major Canadian cities were home to concentrations of potential supporters from single ethnic groups,” Lindgren wrote.

In almost all cases the ethnic papers filled in gaps left by mainstream media by providing more extensive coverage of the local races of interest to their readers.

Most Canadian voters do not participate directly in political events and therefore depend on the news media to help them make informed decisions, Lindgren noted. In addition to examining whether the Conservative party’s courtship of ethnic media paid off in terms of coverage, the research also examined how much election-related news the ethnocultural publications carried, the subject matter dealt with in the coverage and the geographic focus of the reporting local campaigns versus national campaigns.

The results showed that interest in the election varied by publication. The Punjabi Daily carried the most election-related coverage – a total of 123 stories and photos, or 32 per cent of all news items the paper published during the study period. The Russian Express, on the other hand, published just 19 election-related stories and photos, which made up a mere 5.9 per cent of their total news items. The study also observed that both the Punjabi Daily and the Punjabi Post were more similar to mainstream news coverage in that both publications ran more stories about election strategy and poll results than issue-related articles.

Analysis of the election coverage also suggested that individual newspaper’s commitment to election coverage seemed to be influenced by the number of candidates from the publication’s readership community. The Punjabi newspapers, which carried the most election news, also had the most in-group candidates to cover.

Conservatives received most election coverage in GTA ethnic newspapers – New Canadian Media – NCM.

“Immigrant Vote” to Gain Strength in 2015 – New Canadian Media

Good interview with Prof. Triadafilopoulos of UofT on immigrant voting patterns and trends. Looking at this in context of my upcoming book on multiculturalism. Following two observations of interest:

6. Given your findings, what does your study suggest on the subject of immigration generally being a non-partisan issue in Canada?

It will likely remain the case. There’s no political pay-off for populist anti-immigrant rhetoric at the federal level.

Canada is unique among major immigration countries in the degree to which immigration policy is de-politicized, and immigration itself is enthusiastically embraced by federal political parties. Quebec’s provincial politics since 2007 may be a partial exception to this pattern, but this has not had a discernible impact on Quebec voices in federal policy debates over immigration.

7. Do you have any further thoughts on the “immigrant vote” in the 2011 federal elections you said it was inconclusive at the time of writing?

We have not done the necessary analysis to move beyond what we have.  We hope to do so soon.  The key point is that all parties in Canada support a relatively liberal immigration policy, as reflected in annual admissions.  There is also consensus on the utility of an official multiculturalism policy – our Conservative Party is rather different than similar parties in other countries.

“Immigrant Vote” to Gain Strength in 2015 – New Canadian Media – NCM.

New Canadian Media Crowdfunding Campaign

As regular readers of this blog know, I contribute regularly to New Canadian Media.

Given the financial realities of publishing and being a start-up, NCM has launched a crowd funding campaign with FundRazr, with the following message:

New Canadian Media is Canada’s premier website dedicated to bringing news and views from an immigrant perspective – bringing you original content from an immigrant perspective.

Established as a non-profit in 2012, we are proudly pioneering a new pan-Canadian form of immigrant journalism founded on the premise that all Canadians need to know what’s on the minds of immigrants … so we can all have a better conversation. If you haven’t already, take a look at our site, and see how we are changing the national conversation

At this time, we need your help to continue producing great multimedia content. Every dollar you donate will go towards content: great content that makes a difference to our national conversation and the digital technology that enables this great content to be accessible, responsive, and easy-to-view.

Help champion NCM’s pioneering journalism.

While I have no financial interest, it is somewhat self-interested of me to support this campaign.

Please take a look at their site and stories and, if you like what you see, please consider making a contribution.

Andrew