Racist Discourse In Canada's English Print Media
The report contains a review of the literature on racism in the print media over the last two decades. Included in the literature review are studies by scholars, community-based organizations, and the findings of government inquiries. The analysis of more than twenty Canadian studies documents both the consistent and persistent evidence of racism in the print media, that collectively serves as a major indictment of the way in which the media functions in its treatment of people of colour. This review of Canadian research is supported by the authors' examination of the huge body of literature being produced in other jurisdictions (e.g. the UK, US, the Netherlands, and Australia). Manifestations of media bias and discrimination found in the Canadian Press include:
- People of colour are underrepresented and largely invisible in the media.
- When people of colour do appear in media coverage, they are often misrepresented and stereotyped;
- The corporatist nature of the media influences the kind of news that is produced and disseminated;
- Despite the claims of objectivity and neutrality by journalists, editors, and publishers, their individual and organizational beliefs, values and interests impact on the production of news discourse.
- Most significantly, there appears to be a lack of awareness, understanding or concern of the part of those who work in the media that they may be contributing to racism. While the press feels free to critique other institution, they are resistant to criticism of their own standards and practices.
- The coverage of the subject of employment equity in the Globe and Mail editorials;
- The attempt to silence minority voices and protests against racism in the cultural sector as revealed in the coverage of three controversial cultural productions (Show Boat, the Royal Ontario Museum exhibition, Into the Heart of Africa and a conference for writers of colour and First Nations writers called "Writing Thru Race");
- The coverage of stories involving First Nations people which includes a comparative analysis of the Globe and Mail and two Saskatchewan newspapers' coverage of a case involving an Alberta Parliamentarian who was accused of assaulting a Native teenager when he was a RCMP officer several years ago;
- A case study of the racialization of crime looks specifically at the media's discourse on the Just Desserts case. The incident involved the shooting of a White woman by Black assailants in a Toronto restaurant.
The authors' approach to the study is to bring out some of the unchallenged modes of thought, and unquestioned assumptions that appear to be rooted in the culture of media organizations. A multifaceted methodology is employed in this study, involving both quantitative and qualitative research techniques. However, the report focuses on the more qualitative findings. Several databases were created for each case study by downloading relevant articles from the Canadian News Disc. In each case study the authors read and categorized the media coverage in terms of news reporting, editorials, op ed pieces and letters to the editor. The case studies were selected on the basis of media coverage and the social construction of issues that were of significant importance in terms of their impact on minority-majority relations and systems of inequality in Canadian society.
Racist discourse in the media consists of a repertoire of words, images and texts that threaded together, produce an understanding of the world and position and status of people of colour in that world. There is a set of discourses used by the media that functions as coded language that have very different meanings for the producers of the discourse and different communities of readers. These are some examples of the most common forms of media discourse related to people of colour and the issues that concern them.
The case study of the racialization of crime, reveals the complex vocabulary of crime-related language that includes phrases like "cultural deviance," "Jamaican or Black crime." The press creates a sense of moral panic in which isolated cases of violence are represented as an indication of a profound societal crisis that imperils the nation. The linking of race and crime by the media becomes a wake-up call to all Canadians, and especially politicians, to re-evaluate their ideas about authority, control and public policy. The media coverage of the "Just Desserts" case is charged with racial stereotypes and images. These images created by editors, journalists and photographers have enormous strength, power and resilience. When minorities have no power to control, resist, produce or disseminate other real and more positive images in the public domain, these images and generalizations increase their vulnerability in terms of cultural, social, economic and political participation in the mainstream of Canadian society.
Finally, the language of 'otherness', the fragmentation of 'us' and 'them', pervades the media. The ubiquitous 'we' which finds it way into newspaper reporting and editorializing represents the White dominant culture; 'we' who are law-abiding, hardworking, peace-loving. 'They' refers to ethno-racial communities who are often portrayed by the journalists and editors as possessing different (undesirable) values, beliefs and norms. Those marked as 'other' are viewed as existing outside the boundaries of Canadian national identity.
Media discourse is not just a symptom of the problem of racism. It reinforces individual beliefs and behaviours, collective ideologies, the formation of public policies, organization practices. Despite the efforts of some newspapers such as The Toronto Star to be more inclusive in their coverage and hiring practices, greater access, participation and equity in the print media continues to be a serious and unmet challenge. Policies to promote fairness and equity are urgently required. Without greater access to employment opportunities, people of colour, will continue to have virtually no influence on how they are represented by others in the media. Journalism schools across this country need to review their curricula in relation to how they have or have not dealt with issues of ethno-racial diversity and how those who are about to enter the field of journalism can be better prepared for the rapid changing realities of both Canadian society and the world.
Thus, our analysis and findings in this study have uncovered a profound tension in Canadian society: a conflict between the belief that the media represents the cornerstone of a democratic liberal society and the key instrument by which its ideals are produced and disseminated, and the actual role of the media as purveyors of racist discourse, supporters of a powerful White political, economic and cultural elite, and a vehicle for reinforcing racism in Canadian society. It is hoped that by presenting the evidence of racism in the Canadian print media, specific examples of how racist discourse functions, and tools for engaging in discourse analysis, this study will accomplish a number of objectives:
- To encourage a heightened sense of critical consciousness on the part of all those who work in the media and a greater willingness to examine how their own experiential frameworks - values and norms - influence their everyday journalistic practices;
- To support a stronger commitment by regulatory agencies to respond to racism;
- To further research, particularly in the areas of the electronic media and the issues of representation of people of colour in media industries;
- To undertake a systematic review of the curricula in journalism schools;
- To support mechanisms for monitoring the media;
- And to promote a greater degree of accountability and answerability on the part of media organizations.
Reporting on Diversity: A CHECKLIST
This workshop was a joint venture of both Carleton and the Canadian Daily Newspaper Association (CDNA).
Reporting on DIVERSITY
Reporting on DIVERSITY means reflecting all members of the community in a fair and accurate manner, and applying equal standards of scrutiny for all groups.
FOR BEAT AND GENERAL REPORTERS
- Am I covering all aspects, including positive and negative, of diverse communities?
- Am I aware of the power of images, and do I avoid furthering stereotypes by seeking a diverse representation when interviewing people, no matter what the story?
- Are the « labels » I use to describe people appropriate and necessary, and do they meet the guidelines of my news organization?
- Do I regularly consult a variety of widely representative community newspapers, radio and television programs and their editors and producers?
- Do I involve all resources in our news organization as a way to enrich our coverage?
- Do I help keep the diversity dialogue alive in the newsroom through questions, source suggestions and requests for explanation about news decisions?
- Do I research diverse groups thoroughly, to avoid perpetuating stereotypes?
- Do I include questions/allegations of systemic racism as context to specific stories, whenever I can do so fairly and responsibly?
- Am I aware of factions and agendas within groups so that I do not fall prey to manipulation by prominent sources?
- Do I get my assignment/city editors onside-show them how allowing me time to do background research will pay off with better coverage?
- Do I take the time to consult peers and editors to gain a balanced overview when in doubt about the tone of a story?
FOR DESK AND ASSIGNMENT EDITORS
- Am I giving reporters the time to develop diverse contacts and pursue a wide range of stories?
- Am I creating a newsroom atmosphere that encourages reporters to move beyong traditional news gathering?
- Am I personally exploring all sources of news, and open to non-traditional views and voices?
- Do our story and photo ideas and our content perpetuate cultural or other stereotypes? Am I assessing whether our photographs and visuals accurately reflect the entire community?
- Am I watching our use of language for bias?
- Am I aware of minority sensitivities before setting and reviewing a style to describe groups or communities?
- Are we under-playing or over-playing a story because of its diversity content?
- Is our coverage of the actions of a few stereotyping an entire group?
- Am I regularly reviewing the accumulative impact of our coverage?
FOR SENIOR MANAGEMENT
- Are we hiring the most qualified people? And are we making clear what those qualifications are?
- Are we seeking to hire people who can bring diverse perspectives into our newsroom?
- Are we looking for candidates in non-traditional places (e.g., ads in community papers; staff of community papers or cable television and community radio stations; and community groups or organizations)?
- After hiring, are we supporting and training new employees?
- Are we telling schools of journalism what we need?
- Are we thinking long-term about recruitment (e.g., organizing job fairs, participating in high school media literacy programs)?
- Is there commitment from the top that diversity is important?
- Are we clear what we're prepared to invest to make it happen (e.g., outreach, assigning, mentoring)?
- Are we telling diverse communities that we want their business?
- Are we creating opportunities for reporting diversity?
- Are we measuring progress regularly?