Media: Committed to Diversity

An Interview with Madeline Ziniak,

Vice-President and Station Manager of OMNI 1 & OMNI 2

Published September 2004. Some information in this article is outdated.

Madeline Ziniak has been at OMNI television since 1986. Her father, the late Sierhey Khmara Ziniak, was a founder of the Canadian Ethnic Journalists and Writers Club, of which Madeline Ziniak is currently the chair. She started out doing layout for his newspaper, the Byelorussian Voice. In order to reach the audiences that she wanted to reach, she decided that she had to get into electronic media. So she began her career in television.

The past two years have been a very busy but rewarding time for Madeline Ziniak. In addition to her regular duties as Vice-President and Station Manager of OMNI Television, and chair of The Canadian Ethnic Journalists and Writers Club, she also co-chaired a recent major Canadian Government study called The Task Force for Cultural Diversity on Television.

"The important part of this report is that we not only looked at on-screen portrayal of racial minorities, we also looked at the broadcasting corporations. The newsroom and the boardrooms need more diversity. This research gives broadcasters across Canada some rules to tell them how they can become better - more reflective of diversity in our society."

According to Ziniak, the task force and its resulting "Best Practices and Industry Initiatives" recommendations are "a big, big wake up call for everyone to start getting in the game - in really trying to nurture the immigrant community and second and third generation community here."

Creating awareness of the importance of Canada's growing cultural diversity has been a long-term project, according to Ziniak. "We've invested a lot in research. We continually educate advertisers about the benefits of advertising on OMNI. We've been doing this for 25 to 26 years."

It may have taken a quarter of a century, but OMNI Television is now well established, a comfort zone for people of all languages.

The 44 hours per week of original programming produced at OMNI is the core of their business.

"At OMNI 1 and 2 we work with 27 independent producers. They produce the product, we produce the airtime. We air it, they produce it. They're able to generate their revenue from the commercial airtime. We have a [staff] position here that's dedicated to independent production. We're in the process of producing around 200 hours of original language documentary product from independent producers that originate in their language of comfort.

"Our audiences do cross over. We know for example that our Italian, Portuguese and Chinese communities watch 'Everybody Loves Raymond'. We also know that other audiences, not only Chinese heritage audiences watch Chinese News. We know, because South Asian News at 8 o'clock is in English, that other audiences (including second generation Chinese) are watching South Asian News as well. Audiences in Ontario, especially Toronto, are really interested. It's no mistake that the International Film Festival is in Toronto. There's an appetite, because of our make-up and sophistication People really want to know about other communities. People want to know the big story in the Portuguese community, they want to know the political take of the Persian or Iranian community."

"The CRTC has mandated that OMNI 1 is 60 percent language programming and 40 percent English. OMNI 2 is 70 percent language, 30 percent English and that's mandated in our licence. We submit quotas every month that actually set and calculate the kind of programming that we have. This station was 100 percent ethnic in 1986 - but it's impossible to run as a private competitive broadcaster as 100 percent ethnic."

"Running OMNI can be something of a delicate balance. There are certain profit margins that are expected of us. We compete with the other broadcasters. We're not the first choice sometimes, like CTV, Global, City TV.

"That's where the English language combination comes in. Media buyers have said, 'Wow, you guys have David Letterman on. Not only do you have language product, but you have other shows, like real TV shows.' They say, 'You're a real station because you have that combination."

That doesn't mean there are no surprises. Ziniak explains, "We can bring in ratings points for a Bollywood movie that makes it the number one thing to watch anywhere in Ontario on a Sunday afternoon.

"I think the market in general is extremely split - with digital. Ten or 15 years ago, if you had a 'two'rating, it was nothing. Now it's huge."

"We're no longer that little station on the Lakeshore. We were the first to go digital, our equipment is the envy of many other broadcasters now. It's very important to have, as much as one can, 'quality ethnic television'."

The OMNI 1 and 2 signals are available on regular cable from Windsor all the way to Chatham. They have three transmitters, in London and Ottawa as well as Toronto. Around the country, if a community wishes to bring in the signal, OMNI is carried on EchoStar and Starchoice. OMNI 1 is targeting the Euro-Latino-Caribbean communities while OMNI 2 is Pan-Asian.