OPINION: The more Canadians learn about the priorities highlighted in 800-plus ethnic-language media outlets, the more they’ll understand political forces in Canada.
Thousands of stories are coming out of the country’s ethnic-language media — and only pockets of Canadians know anything about them.
More than 800 ethnic media outlets reach a range of distinct communities across this country, publishing and broadcasting in more than 30 major languages — including Mandarin, Punjabi, Farsi and Ukrainian.
It’s only rarely that the so-called mainstream English- and French-language media learns what issues are hot at such media outlets, given the barrier of language. But buried within the country’s proliferating ethnic-language media are potentially high-impact stories.
The Vancouver Sun last month, for instance, ran a prominent article about the way major Chinese-language newspapers in Vancouver and Toronto were running large ads criticizing recent protests in Hong Kong, promoting views that reflect the Chinese Communist Party’s position, including that the demonstrators are nothing but destructive “radicals.”
Since I write about diversity and migration, sources have helped me find other stories enclosed in Metro Vancouver’s ethnic-language media outlets, of which there are more than 100 in B.C. Some stories revealed, for instance, how local South Asians are in an uproar about a recent surge in foreign students, about how B.C.-based Iranians fear spies from their theocratic homeland and about how Canadian politicians frequently give speeches inside Chinese-language churches and Sikh gurdwaras.
Two well-placed Canadians, Andres Machalski, a veteran media monitoring specialist, Andrew Griffith, a former Immigration Department director, are doing the country a service by trying to make ethnic-media journalism more transparent to the public, bringing it out of its language silos.
They’ve just created the online tool, Diversityvotes.ca, to monitor and translate stories from Canada’s ethnic media, which Machalski says may be more pervasive in this country than almost anywhere. Diversityvotes.ca emphasizes articles with political implications, since politicians of every stripe already use ethnic media outlets to try to grab the precious votes of minority members and immigrants.
The electoral stakes are high. Canada has 41 federal ridings in which more than half the population is made up of people of colour. Metro Vancouver alone has four ridings in which more than 70 per cent of the population are people of colour, plus five more in which the proportion is above 50 per cent. They’re concentrated in Richmond, Vancouver, Surrey and Burnaby.
People of colour (whom Statistics Canada refer to as ‘visible minorities’) make up majorities in nine federal ridings in Metro Vancouver, which also have strong immigrant populations. Dozens of ethnic-language media outlets aim to reach voters in each region. There are 41 such ridings in Canada, almost all in Metro Vancouver and Greater Toronto. (Source: Diversityvotes.ca)
Winning as many high-immigrant ridings as possible in Metro Vancouver and Greater Toronto is key to national success for any federal party. And so far Justin Trudeau’s Liberals are doing the best at wooing such minorities, with a recent poll suggesting they’re primed to take 39 per cent of the votes of immigrants, compared to the Conservatives’ 29 per cent, NDP’s 14 per cent and Green’s nine.
There are more than 800 ethnic-language media outlets in Canada, which highlight vastly different political issues, says Andres Machalski, co-founder of Diversityvotes.ca
Monitoring the ethnic-language media will be informative for all, regardless of ethnicity or place of birth, since Machalski is convinced most Canadians have no clue about the sway of the ethnic-language media. Keeping informed can also help expose when politicians speak out of both sides of their mouths, telling one ethnic group one thing and the general population something else.
That’s in part what happened this year when the mainstream media learned the Liberal candidate in the riding of Burnaby South, Karen Wang, was posting in Chinese-language social media that she was the “only” Chinese candidate, while her opponent, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, was “of Indian descent.” Wang resigned and apologized.
Ethnic diversity has been formally celebrated in Canada for more than three decades, since former prime minister Pierre Trudeau promoted it through the official multiculturalism policy, said Machalski, president of Mirems, which created the online tool that each day translates many ethnic-media headlines and some specific articles. But the situation is increasingly, he said, becoming polarized.
“Is the ethnic media strong? Is it influential? In a country that’s bringing in 300,000 newcomers a year, what do you think? Just look at the demographics and make up your own opinion,” Machalski, an immigrant from Argentina whose ethnic background is Anglo-Polish, said from Toronto.
The Italian-language media in Canada, which has more than 25 different outlets, is full of stories about Trudeau promising to apologize for detaining 700 Italian-Canadians during the Second World War, Machalski said. It’s a huge issue for some Italian-Canadians, but off the radar of most others Canadians, he said, acknowledging an apology could be loaded for the families of thousands of Canadian loved ones who died or were wounded fighting Italian fascism.
Vancouver-based Blythe Irwin, who directs media monitoring for Diversityvotes.ca, said the feedback she gets is most Canadians have no idea that ethnic media has grown so pervasive across Canada, with 110 Punjabi-language alone media outlets alone. There are also more than 100 various Chinese-language outlets, 62 in Spanish, 31 in Farsi, 29 in Arabic, 24 in Russian, 16 in Hindi, 12 in Greek, 12 in Polish and three in German.
The more that all Canadians can learn about what’s being prioritized in ethnic-language media, the more they will understand the diverse political forces at play in this fast-changing country. Machalski is onto something when he says, “We have to vaccinate the public against political gullibility.” Canadians in general, he said, are wet behind the ears in the way that they think: “If I can’t read it, it doesn’t exist.”