Diversity: The Canadian Media and You

by Gilda Spitz

Just as the population of Toronto has changed over the years to welcome newcomers from all over the world, the Canadian media has changed to reflect its readers and viewers. Not only the mainstream media is covering stories of interest to newcomers, but they are also hiring journalists from those communities in large numbers.

“Citytv was among the first to hire visible minorities to serve as on-air personalities,” says Ellin Bessner, a journalist and professor of journalism at Centennial College. She adds that CBC Radio is now a leader in this field, covering diverse neighbourhoods and communities like no other station in Toronto. Hockey Night in Canada even broadcasts hockey games inPunjabi.

In short, “what gets covered, and who covers it, is vastly different from 20 years ago,” says Bessner.

Where Do You Fit In?

The more you read, watch, or listen to the media, the more likely you may want to contact a publisher or broadcaster for some reason. You may want to compliment, complain, inquire, protest, suggest, or even sue.

Each organization sets its own rules regarding the conduct of their journalists and the accuracy of their content. For example, the CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices insist on accuracy and integrity, to “achieve balance and fairness [by ensuring] that the widest possible range of views is expressed.”

So, if you do decide to contact the media, what are your options?

Write a Letter to the Editor

If you are unhappy with something you read in a newspaper or magazine, you can write a letter to the editor. You can contact any of the mainstream English or French media, or any publication serving your community in your own language.

Your letter may contain something as simple as a request for a correction of the spelling of your name or some other error. Or you may be concerned that an article is unfair or misleading, and you want to demand an apology or retraction. (Incidentally, your letter doesn’t have to be a complaint. You can write to praise them for a great article or an interesting program too!)

If you come from a country in which the press is not free, you may feel reluctant to write a letter to the editor here in Canada. But Bessner points out that your contribution “helps Canadians understand your immigrant experience.”

Complain About an Advertisement

If you are concerned about the accuracy of an advertisement, check out the website of Advertising Standards Canada (ASC). The Canadian Code of Advertising Standards contains many rules to ensure that ads are truthful, fair, and accurate.

If you feel that an ad is inaccurate or misleading, check the ASC website to learn how to submit a complaint. For example, for a print ad, include the name and date of the publication and include a copy of the ad.
For a commercial, name the radio or TV station, describe the commercial, and include the time and date.

Sue for Libel

If you believe something written or broadcast about you is seriously untrue, the situation may be considered libel.

According to lawyer Peter Jacobsen, partner at Bersenas, Jacobsen, Chouest, Thomson, Blackburn, LLP, it may be appropriate to sue for libel “if the statement is incorrect, if it injures your reputation, and if it is serious enough to spend some money on.

How much money? It’s hard to say. Jacobsen explains that, if your lawyer believes that you may receive a large settlement, he or she may agree to waive the fee, and instead receive a percentage of the settlement if the case is decided in your favour. Otherwise, the fee for a libel case is impossible to estimate without knowing further details. You should also know that, if the media corrects or retracts its statement quickly, the settlement amount would likely be quite small.

If you have reason to suspect libel, consult a lawyer.

Contribute

You can do more than just react to what you read, watch, and hear. You can participate in the news process as well.

For example, during the recent devastating earthquake in Haiti, the Canadian media was “begging for input from its audience,” says Bessner. Readers and viewers were asked to post photos of missing friends and relatives, submit first-hand videos taken from cell phones, and send text messages with stories about the disaster.

To contribute a story, photo, or video, go to a website such as mynews.ctv.ca, and follow the instructions.

Participate In an Editorial Board Meeting

Many of the mainstream media meet with members of various newcomer communities to request feedback and input. For example, says Bessner, to ensure that they are reporting fairly and appropriately, the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail, and CTV meet with different newcomer groups on a regular basis.

If you are interested in participating in this type of discussion, find the group in your community that represents your interests with the media.

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