Diversity in the Times of COVID-19

Written by Muskan Sandhu

As the world undergoes an unprecedented crisis, ethnic media is serving as a lifeline to immigrant communities now more than ever before. At Diversity Empowers Health, a blog series by MIREMS, we hope to make cross-cultural communication on COVID-19 accessible by overcoming language barriers and bringing voices at the margins to the fore. 

“Some community agencies see people being cut off from essential information because it isn’t readily available in their language…these are people who will fall through the cracks,” said Avvy Go, the director of a legal clinic, in response to the funding package announced by Health Canada to reach ethnic communities through multilingual awareness advertisements on COVID-19.1 Andrew Griffith, a former director in the government’s immigration department, echoed the sentiment when he said that a gap of 10 days between consistent daily press briefings by ministers and placing ads in ethnic media “means you’ve probably missed the boat.”2

While these statements are incisive in recognising the heightened vulnerability of immigrant groups to COVID-19 owing to language barriers, they also risk falling into the trap of infantilizing these communities. For when one performs the imperative task of actually tuning into ethnic media, these claims reveal themselves to be woefully unaware, if not downright false. Ironically, in assuming that the ethnic communities are in the dark about vital information, these statements appear to be in the dark about the role ethnic media is playing in bringing meaningful COVID-19 reportage to its multilingual audiences.

In this time of crisis, ethnic media is executing a range of functions from communicating regular COVID-19 updates to answering a slew of questions by confused citizens. Various radio shows live broadcast the PM’s addresses along with snippets of announcements made by federal and provincial health officers. In a Hindi radio show broadcast from Calgary, an MLA from Alberta appears as a guest on the show almost everyday to give an update on the situation in the province. In a similar vein, a popular Punjabi radio show from Vancouver has a Punjabi speaking doctor come in every other day to talk about COVID-19 and clarify any circulating misinformation. Television and radio shows have consultants come in to answer queries about rapidly evolving government benefits. This media is also quick to note the gaps in government policies; several ethnic outlets launched a critique on health officials after Dr. Theresa Tam changed her stance on the use of masks. Most importantly perhaps, ethnic media highlights the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on certain communities–the headline of a Chinese editorial read, “how do we explain racial conflict to children amid the public health crisis?”

The central role ethnic media is playing in disseminating invaluable information to its diverse audience should not be undermined. Rather, its relevance and necessity ought to be acknowledged and understood.

To stay in touch with COVID-19 reportage in ethnic media visit our blog series Diversity Empowers Health at http://www.mirems.com/covid-19  

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1 As quoted in Miller, Jason, “Linguistic minorities lack COVID-19 information, say advocates.” https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2020/03/27/linguistic-minorities-lack-covid-19-information-say-advocates.html

2 As quoted in Mangat, Palak, “Dole out funding for COVID-19 ads soon, say experts, as ethnic media outlets face cash crunch.” https://www.hilltimes.com/2020/04/02/dole-out-funding-for-covid-19-foreign-language-ads-soon-say-experts-as-ethnic-media-outlets-face-cash-crunch/242113