The Canadian-Arab print and web media mostly earmarks less space to federal and provincial Canadian content and local Arab community news, providing more coverage of the Middle East and pan-Arab issues.
Canadian content here is mainly translations from English-language sources. This is why they seem to conform to Canadian mainstream norms rather than risk expressing an Arab viewpoint which might seem controversial due to cultural or political sensitivities.
For example, Meshwar, a 40-page fortnightly newspaper based in Mississauga and owned by Palestinian journalist Nazih Khatatba, published two translated stories in its January 25th issue. One was a Canadian-specific news story and the other was a Canadian view of the Arab population. The headlines read: “Canada Seeks Evidence on Hostage Taker, Summons Algeria Envoy”, and “Canada: A Base for Islamist Militants.”
The paper refrained from rewriting, commenting or getting the feedback of the local Arab community on an Arab-Canadian possibly being labelled a terrorist in order to not look controversial.
Canadian content in some other cases is even presented from a neutral perspective. For instance, Al-Bilad, a 48-page monthly newspaper run by Iraqi journalists since 2002, downplayed the fact that Ontario’s premier-designate, Kathleen Wynne, would be the first openly gay leader of a province in Canada despite mainstream Canadian media drawing attention to this facet of her personality. This London, Ontario-based paper headlined a story published in its February issue as “Kathleen Wynne First Female Premier to Govern Ontario.”
Al Hayat Alarabiya provides yet another perspective. This 28-page weekly newspaper, also run by Iraqi journalists, uses terms such as “Zionist” and “entity” to describe citizens and the state of Israel in its January 24th issue. These terms are not used by mainstream Canadian media. The Scarborough-based paper’s story was titled “Punished, Yet Kept in Power by Zionist Voters: Netanyahu Starts Consultations to Form Government ‘of Delicate Balance.’” The introduction to the story read: “Results of the Zionist Knesset’s elections have shown that the ‘Israeli’ society punished outgoing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but kept him in power” and “Netanyahu, though weakened by the elections, is the front-running candidate to form the entity’s coming government.”
Canadian-Arab media rarely conduct interviews or produce reports by their staff given their thin editorial budgets. In one rare occurrence, Medhat Eweeda, the managing editor of Al-Ahram Elgdeed, a 28-page fortnightly newspaper run by Egyptian Copts, conducted an interview with a local Canadian-Egyptian entrepreneur in its January 27th issue. The interviewee, Ben Shenouda, ran for office in the 2011 elections as a Progressive Conservative candidate for the Brampton-West riding. He told the paper that he got engaged in politics “to serve the interests of his colleagues and those of the Egyptian community in Canada.” Shenouda leads a company that controls three percent of Canada’s pharmacies, the paper reported.
Local Arab community newspapers in Canada predominantly use the Arabic language with rare and often small English sections. They are printed monthly, fortnightly or weekly, and are mostly distributed free. Advertisers are largely Arab real estate brokers, dentists, physicians, restaurants, food stores, community settlement services and Arabic television channel subscription companies. Large-size Canadian corporate advertisers are not clients of these newspapers.
In the online media world, assaha.ca, arabnews.ca and raainews.com come across as professional, publishing a large number of news and feature stories.
For instance, Assaha, run by Iraqi Arabs, allocates enough space for federal and provincial Canadian content as well as Iraqi community activities. In this website’s most read section, local community news is showcased. Headlines such as “(Iraqi) Father Niaz Toma Delivers Lecture in Toronto,” “Iraqi Consular Mission Heads from Ottawa to Western Coast,” and “Ontario Has New Premier,” perhaps reflect reader interest in Arab community news and Canadian content, although the site, like other media sources that cater to the Arab-Canadian demographic, allocates a larger space for stories originating from the Middle East.
Arab News, originally a fortnightly newspaper established in 1974 with an Egyptian flavour, publishes the bulk of its stories focusing on the Arab Spring and its ongoing ripple effects. This Toronto-based online newspaper widely publishes Canadian content translated from English sources.
Similarly, non-Canadian content, particularly Egyptian news and views prevail, in Raai News, which is published by Canadian-Coptic activists. The website’s deputy editor is Prof. Sheref El Sabawy, who ran as a Liberal Party candidate for the Mississauga riding in the 2011 elections. That there is almost no Canadian content on this website is a stark reminder that Canadian-Arab print and online media have quite a ways to go before their content strikes a better balance between their new and old countries for their target audience – Canadians of Arab descent. – New Canadian Media
(Mourad Haroutunian is an Egyptian media professional based in Toronto, Canada. He has worked in Egypt, Dubai, Saudi Arabia and the United States for Bloomberg News, CNBC Arabiya, Alhurra TV, Forbes Arabia and Nile TV International. He holds an M.A. in journalism and mass communication from the American University in Cairo.)