Diversity: Rise of the Ethnic Media in Canada

by Teenaz Javat

A few years ago, Ontario Place, the iconic water park located in Toronto’s waterfront, was having a hard time attracting visitors. Despite investing millions of dollars into advertising in the mainstream media, visitor numbers had stalled.

As a last resort, management at Ontario Place decided to hand over advertising to Diversity Media Services, an agency of Multimedia Nova Corporation.

Before long, there were hordes of newcomers arriving at Ontario Place every summer to enjoy the water park. They came from Greektown, Little India, Corso Italia, Portugal village, Chinatown, Korea Town, Little Poland and all the multiple ethnic enclaves and neighbourhoods that collectively make up the city of Toronto.

The trick that brought them to the water park was that Ontario Place, through its advertising campaign, reached out to the various ethnic communities that make up the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). They were quick to realise that if you advertised to people in their own language they will come.

“Ontario Place understood this early on. They used ethnic media to their advantage. If ethnic minorities can see themselves reflected in the pages of our newspapers they will buy them. If there are readers, advertisers will follow. This has not happened as much as it should,” says John Gordon Miller, former journalist and Chair of the School of Journalism at Toronto’s Ryerson University.

“To reach any given audience you must reflect their lifestyle and their cultural diversity. The Canadian mainstream media has failed in its role of integrating the diverse cultures that form the new cityscape,” he adds.

Miller is one of Canada’s leading researchers and trainers dealing with diversity in news organizations. He has presented numerous conference papers on diversity in journalism.

Early on he realized that if we did not integrate newcomers they would go elsewhere.

Statistics Canada figures state that by 2006, over 50 percent of Toronto’s population was foreign born.

“So when over half the population cannot see themselves reflected in the mainstream they form what Multimedia Nova Corporation calls the “New Mainstream,” says Miller. “A huge chunk moves away from the old mainstream, simply because they have been driven away.”

Immigrant Profile Has Changed

A majority of the immigrants who came to Canada after the Second World War were artisans, trades persons or farmers from predominantly European countries.

However, that is no longer the case. Over 70 percent of newcomers who came to Canada in the last quarter of the 20th century (after 1975) came armed with at least one university degree and were predominantly from South Asia, Africa and the Far East.

Fayyaz H. Walana is a case in point. He was a managing editor of an Urdu newspaper in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. When he immigrated to Canada with his wife (also a journalist) and two young children in 2004, he saw much to his disappointment that other than the problem in Pakistan’s northwest border with Afghanistan, there was no reflection of his community or news about his country in the mainstream media.

“I wanted to know what was happening in the community where I lived in a language that I understood. I got nothing about that from the local paper so I decided to start my own newspaper.”

Walana’s own research showed that most of the newcomers were in the habit of reading at least one newspaper (in their own language) back home.

“I saw a huge gap which needed to be filled. These people were highly literate and educated in their own languages, so there was a ready market awaiting the product,” said Walana.

He went back to school for a year, and after graduating from Sheridan College’s Canadian Journalism for Internationally Trained Writers program, he started a weekly newspaper called Urdu Post. “I reflect my community in a language which they understand, so I draw readers in.
Once readers are established automatically the advertisers will follow,” he adds.

According to him readers are looking for the following:

  • Know what is happening back home
  • How to fit into Canada
  • Seek out resources in their immediate neighbourhood
  • Find out what is going on in their ethnic community within the city

Ethnic media fulfills all of the above in a language which they understand.

Therefore, the rise in the ethnic media is inevitable.

Similar sentiments are echoed by Alden E. Habacon, Manager of Diversity Initiatives for the English Television Network of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).

According to Habacon, “Media organizations are struggling to grasp the cultural diversity of rapidly evolving Canadian cities. However, they are using outdated language and concepts to engage with the realities of multiculturalism, diversity and cultural identity. The gap which they have created is being filled up by ethnic newspapers which are booming at the cost of the mainstream.”

“My research over the years has concluded that diversity is like the blind spot in the newsroom.
Newspapers thrive when they connect with their readers and in this case there is a huge disconnect, and that is the niche being filled up by ethic papers. Mainstream newspapers are becoming irrelevant to a large chunk of our population,” says Miller.

By not having diversity in the newsroom the mainstream is missing out on stories which would be of interest to newcomers, so they move elsewhere.

In Canada, Multimedia Nova understood the importance of diversity. Their motto of Bringing the world to your doorstep has served them as well as the communities they reach out to. President and CEO Lori Abittan best sums up this success story on their website. “Our own multi-disciplinary staff of over 150 employees representing nations from all over the world – Italy, America, Argentina, Portugal, Brazil, China, England, Colombia, Puerto Rico, Somalia – all working together under one roof, respectful of each other’s homeland and experiences, and all embracing the rich cultural fabric of their colleagues and co-workers.”

“When you consider this environment working with our roster of international clients – including those in Europe, United States, South Korea, Russia, and South Asia – Multimedia Nova becomes all the more distinctive, competitive and relevant. Put simply, we are the new mainstream.”

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