Media: Echoes Of Punjab Also Act As Agents Of Change

by Teenaz Javat

The Greater Toronto Area (GTA) has been, and continues to be, the destination of choice for many newcomers who have decided to make Canada their new home.

They not only bring with them their monetary assets, but also their social capital and cultural traditions that enrich the Canadian mosaic. Canada, for its part, has a rich tradition of celebrating these differences.

The ethnic media here, similar to those publications that many immigrants left behind in their native lands, has sprung up in pockets across the GTA.

The desire to connect not only with others in the community, but also with those left back home has given rise to several ethnic newspapers, radio programs and TV channels catering specifically to people from different cultures and in a language they feel most comfortable in.

One radio station that has effectively used its position in the Punjabi community to help newcomers integrate into Canada is Punjab Di Goonj (Echoes of Punjab). It is North America’s longest running Punjabi radio program, with over 250,000 listeners across Ontario. Thanks to the 132,000 Punjabi speaking people living in the GTA the show has an incredible reach.

According to radio host Kuldip Deepak, “Punjab Di Goonj has been supported and appreciated by thousands of listeners for the past 28 years. We provide our audience with Canadian and international news, while entertaining and informing them at the same time.”

Over the years it has used its captive audience to address a wide variety of social issues that affect the large Punjabi community in Ontario. In fact, it was the first Punjabi-language radio program to introduce Talk-shows way back in the early 1990’s.

“Deepak has, to the best of my knowledge, quite effectively used Punjab Di Goonj as a conduit to bring about social change and to ease, to an extent, the culture shock that newcomers in the community face,” says Baldev Mutta, Executive Director, of Brampton-based Punjabi Community Health Services.

Mutta has been a frequent guest on Deepak’s radio talk shows. They have discussed subjects as mundane as how to retain the Punjabi culture within second and third generation immigrants, to some as controversial and divisive as ‘is it okay for a Punjabi girl to date or marry a white man.’

According to Mutta the community lends itself easily to talk shows. “We get a great response every time we go on air or open up the airwaves to take calls. Although I now come on the show only once a month, there was a time when I was a weekly fixture. Radio has proven to be an effective medium to outreach as it is easily accessible.”

Incidentally, over the years, Deepak and Mutta have seen a trend emerge. Women are attracted to talkback radio more so when topics like parenting or family wellness are discussed. “We have used this medium to explain simple things like how it is against Canadian law to hit kids, an action which is quite acceptable back home in the Punjab. We make them understand that what you might consider a harmless spank may be perceived as child abuse by the authorities,” adds Mutta.

Other hot-button topics discussed are alcoholism and where to get help, mental health issues, a topic heavily stigmatized within the community. It is a win-win situation as callers do not need to reveal their name while at the same time they can get solutions or information about where to go and seek help.

In addition to entertainment and talk shows, Deepak has produced and conducted various charity radio-thons for community centres, hospitals, temples and other community-related projects, collecting over $2.5 million over the years.

The Program airs on CJMR 1320 AM which reaches an area from approximately Kitchener in the west through to Cobourg in the east and as far north as the town of Orillia.

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