New Canadian Media

Research Watch #9: Canada’s Vital Ethnic Media

Written by  New Canadian Media Monday, 01 February 2016 17:59
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Canada's ethnic media outlets provide important functions, new studies suggest.
Canada's ethnic media outlets provide important functions, new studies suggest. Photo Credit: Matt Popovich via Unsplash CC

by Priya Ramanujam in Scarborough, Ontario

At a time when national and local mainstream media seem to be downsizing and shutting down daily, where does Canada’s ethnic media fit in? And how will these outlets survive? 

The 2015 Canadian edition of the Global Media Journal, edited by Rukhsana Ahmed, explores these questions with five research papers that “address challenges and opportunities multicultural (ethnic) media present to immigrant integration.” 

Across the board, one sentiment is clear: when considering both its multiculturalism and national media policy, Canada must keep ethnic media in mind.

Brampton’s ethnic media bridges cultural divides

It takes more than receiving a press release from the municipal government to ensure ethnic media report on city affairs, according to a case study by Ryerson University’s April Lindgren. In her study, “Municipal Communication Strategies and Ethnic Media: A Settlement Service in Disguise”, she suggests the city of Brampton is leading the pack in understanding this. 

Interestingly, a decade ago, a similar study deemed the city of Brampton unresponsive to the needs of its immigrant community.

So what changed? 

Lindgren cites 2006, when the city transitioned from being a multiracial city with various visible minority groups making up over 50 per cent of its demographic to a city with a dominant South Asian — specifically Punjabi-speaking Indo-Canadian — population as a turning point of sorts.

This is when growing concern emerged from long-time residents about newcomers and the city recognized a need to amplify its ethnic media reach in order to mitigate brewing conflict.

The resulting strategy included hiring an ethnic media coordinator who had to speak Punjabi, standardizing advertising buys across a number of approved ethnic media outlets and translating all communications material into Punjabi and Hindi (as well as Urdu and Portuguese).

The city recognized a need to amplify its ethnic media reach in order to mitigate brewing conflict.

While it wasn’t all smooth sailing — for example, some papers thought the press releases were paid advertisements and invoiced the city for them — Lindgren concludes that municipalities that follow Brampton’s lead will find they are actually “providing a settlement service in the guise of a communication policy.”

This is echoed by University of Ottawa researchers Luisa Veronis and Rukhsana Ahmed, who studied four ethno-cultural communities in Ottawa — Chinese, Spanish-speaking Latin American, South Asian and Somali — and their access to and use of ethnic media. 

They suggest the City of Ottawa adopt a similar strategy as Brampton and engage multicultural media, which is typically more accessible (i.e. free, absent of language barriers) as well as translate important communications material, particularly on the city website.

Chinese language media struggles to maintain standards

The pressing need for stability and growth often trumps journalistic quality for Chinese-language media in Canada, say many members of the Chinese Canadian ethnic media in Xiapoing Li’s research paper, “A Critical Examination of Chinese Language Media’s Normative Goals and News Decisions.”

Much of the pressure for remaining profitable comes as a result of increased competition from free newspapers and websites entering the market and declining advertising revenues. Case in point: one of the top dailies, World Journal, ceasing all publication in Canada. 

But as Li points out, Chinese-language outlets have many important functions, one of the most important being assisting with the integration and settlement of first generation Canadians. 

The pressing need for stability and growth often trumps journalistic quality for Chinese language media.

These outlets are also the preferred media for Chinese migrants living in major Canadian cities who are looking to gather both government and general lifestyle information, according to researcher Yuping Mao. 

“The government and NGOs should try to disseminate important information in Chinese ethnic media and through Chinese social networks,” states Mao in “Investigating Chinese Migrants’ Information-Seeking Patterns in Canada: Media Selection and Language Preference”.

Mao's study further underlines what Li's paper finds: Chinese ethnic media should not only be upheld to high journalistic standards, but should be created in ways that are sustainable in Canada.

For this to happen, Li puts forth three recommendations for Chinese ethnic media in Canada: offer professional training opportunities for ethnic media journalists, some who are hired without any previous experience to reduce costs; explore possibilities of organizations like the CBC collaborating with major ethnic media outlets; and finally allocate public funds for multicultural and multilingual media — a model already in place in Australia.

“There is little justification for the absence of similar services when Canada is held up as a model of multiculturalism,” Li writes. 

Younger generations distance themselves from ethnic media

While ethnic media’s importance among first generation Canadians is clear, these outlets are growing out of touch with subsequent generations, says University of Waterloo’s Augie Fleras.

In “Multicultural Media in a Post-Multicultural Canada? Rethinking Integration,” Fleras examines the shortcomings of “multicultural media” when it comes to connecting with readers and viewers who are resistant to being placed in ethnic silos. 

The issue is part of a larger context in which second and third generation Canadians see multiculturalism as an “obsolete straight jacket,” the paper suggests. 

Second and third generation Canadians see multiculturalism as an “obsolete straight jacket."

Fleras writes that in 2015, 10 ethnic papers flourished in their federal election coverage throughout just five Brampton, Ontario ridings where there is a heavy South Asian population. This is at the same time when longstanding publications like Canadian Jewish News and Corriere Canadese struggle to stay afloat.

In order to survive, traditional ethnic media must evolve, Fleras explains, making several recommendations. 

The most important one is to produce content that is reflective of the complex lived realities of racialized Canadians, many of whom subscribe to this mentality: “Do not judge me because of my ethnicity, but never forget where I came from.”


Research Watch is a monthly column on NewCanadianMedia.ca that looks at recently released and emerging research relating to immigration, settlement, immigrant/ethno-cultural communities and multiculturalism. Researchers or organizations releasing studies we should consider are encouraged to write to assignment@newcanadianmedia.ca

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

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