Media: The Voices of Home are Just a Click Away

by Veronica Leonard

Dick Morgan immigrated to Canada from England in 1958 but will not go out on Thursday night because the Maine PBS TV channel is showing British comedies; he also goes to BBC World News after watching the CTV News to get a different view of events.

Things are not that different among newer immigrants. Dr. Sunita Sharma says that every Indian household regularly tunes into one of the ATN (Asian Television Network) channels for news, serials, movies and sports from India. Her parents have been in Canada for over 45 years but keep their connection to India alive through the shows on ATN.

“My Dad just lives around the block from me and one minute he’ll be visiting and suddenly he’s gone and I realize his favourite show is starting.”

Dr. Sharma and her son think of themselves as Canadian but ATN provides a connection to their wider family still in India, and helps keep the language alive in their lives.

For old and new immigrants the need is very strong to hear familiar accents, see familiar lifestyles and customs, and see social changes in their homeland. Thanks to satellite and cable TV, as well as streaming video on the internet, the voices of home are a click away.

The Asian Television Network, ATN, is Canadian owned and distributes 23 specialty digital TV channels that serve the people of South Asian descent with a choice of music, Bollywood movies, news, sports, religion, serials and lifestyle programs in Hindi, Tamil, Gujarati, Punjabi, Bangla, and Pakistani. It also has three Chinese channels and a channel providing television programming in several South Asian languages plus English with live shows from top name artists from the Indian sub continent. ATN also distributes the Commonwealth Broadcasting Network, CBN, known for its great world cricket matches. All of ATN’s channels are available through Rogers Cable TV.

A number of them are also available from Shaw Cable, Bell ExpressVu Satellite TV and Telus TV. To see a list of ATN channels go to www.asiantelevision.com. ATN also operates a satellite radio station in a number of South Asian languages at ATN XM159.

Another Canadian company, Fairchild TV operates a channel for Cantonese speaking Canadians which is available through all the major satellite and cable service providers. It has studios in Toronto and Vancouver and is watched by 70 percent of Canada’s Chinese population. Fairchild also operates radio stations in Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver at
AM 1430 and FM 88.9. The Fairchild website is ww.fairchildtv.com.

Thanks to satellite technology there are hundreds of TV channels that could be available through your cable or your satellite TV. However, Canada has a government agency, the Canadian Radio and Television Commission (CRTC), which regulates the quality of what is being broadcast on TV. So, for example because of Al Jazeera’s station to airing of many of the Al Qaeda beheadings and manifestos, its application to be broadcast in Canada was not allowed until November of 2009. There are other satellite stations from the middle east, that are available by satellite.

Customers signing up for satellite TV today are automatically set up for receiving international channels anywhere in Canada. The Bell Expressvu website (www.bellexpressvu.com) provides into about combo packages from Greece, Russia, Italy, Poland, China, Germany and South Asian for about $10 a month on top of the basic monthly charges. Add-on packages can be had for $5 more or the viewer can choose individual stations. Similar pricing is available through most cable providers, Rogers having the largest selection of international channels. You can check its website for more information (www.rogers.com).

To deal with programs originating from countries in different time zones, a Personal Video Recorder (PVR) machine can be rented through the cable or satellite service or bought from an electronics store. A PVR can be set to record programs that are broadcast at 4 am or in the middle of the day and can be replayed at any time the viewer wants. Digital is now the way to go for satellite or cable stations but most of the international stations are not using High Definition or HD technology so that further upgrade is not essential to have right away.

Many International TV networks are also using their websites to distribute their programs, and the CRTC has no ability to stop people from downloading shows or news from anywhere to watch on their computer screen. There are also websites like www.ustream.tv and www.Justin.tv where videos by liberation groups or videos of international sports events can be downloaded.

OMNI 1 & 2 are Canadian multinational channels which are available through Rogers and Bell ExpressVu with a selection of programs from people of many nationalities rebroadcast several times a week. The programs are specifically intended for Canadian immigrants. Programs like The Voice of Sri Lanka produced by Ranjit Wickramasinghe are typical, with episodes about geography, history, the economy, public and social policy, and entertainment while trying to enhance community solidarity and lower cultural barriers. Gurkan Berti is the producer of Mesopotamia TV, another OMNI program, which promotes Kurdish culture, language and provides local and international news to Kurdish people with a focus on Toronto.

OMNI has provided work for filmmakers of many different cultures like Vera Melekhova, the Russian born producer of the documentary Canadian Champion in the Making. It is the true story of Andrei Rogozine, a 16 year old figure skater from Toronto and the struggles of his Russian immigrant parents to help him become a Canadian champion skater.

While watching familiar TV programs from a former homeland can help ease the feelings of loneliness and isolation that many new immigrants experience, it should be mixed with watching Canadian programs as well. TV could be a very good learning tool. Children’s shows, cooking shows, shopping shows, and local news programs are excellent ways to learn the English language and culture and understand what is happening in the community and across the country.

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