Portrayal of Immigrants in Canadian Media

Published: 15 January 2013

Country: Canada

by Alexia Kalaitzi

CANADA_PICDespite the strongly multicultural character of Canada, the media of the country seem to have forgotten to include immigrants in their narratives. They are either invisible by media or their depiction is “mixed at best and deplorable at worst”.

“Media forgot about immigration having the conviction that all immigrants are well integrated in a society, proud of its multiculturalism and level of integration. Immigrants’ stories don’t get any more in the media agenda”, said to MDI the journalist Michael Valpy,recipient of the Atkinson Fellowship for investigating social cohesion in Canada.

There are some extraordinary facts and statistics, Mr Valpy comments, like for example that the 65% of immigrants find jobs below to their educational level or that the 95% of the immigrant doctors have never practiced their profession that media don’t refer to. Furthermore, researches have proved that immigrants rarely appear in photos accompanying newspaper’s articles or are invited as guests in TV shows.

Michael Valpy explains that while mass media has pretty much treated multiculturalism and immigration in a “laissez-faire” manner, paying little attention to it, problems like the increase of “racialized underclasses” and of temporary foreign workers who do menial jobs at depressed wages have emerged. Media allegedly ignored these new trends.

Immigrants’ portrayal tends to be a negative representation of the non-white immigrant ‘Other’ and it is mostly connected with a ‘utilitarian’ discourse which relates immigrants to the benefits they bring or could bring in the economy of the country. Micheal Valpy refers to the case of a Canadian city with a large community of Jamaicans which is usually blamed for violent incidents. “Media don’t mention or try to explain the reasons of this attitude. They don’t report on all the problems of the community; fatherless families, poverty, etc. They prefer to pretend that black community doesn’t exist”.

Important role also plays the lack of diversity in the newsrooms as the percentage of non-white professional journalists is five times lower than the percentage of non-whites in the Canadian population for 41 daily newsrooms surveyed across Canada, while only 16 out of the 67 non-white journalists working in Canadian newsrooms are black.

With a large part of country’s population not being able to identify itself in media, the isolation of the immigrants and especially of the newcomers is furthered. Characterizing media’s stance, Mr Valpy says “there’s no conscious exclusion but either a conscious inclusion”. And he concludes “Media defines the narrative of how we see ourselves and how we think of ourselves. Only human centric stories can break down the barriers. We are doing a bad job. We should go out and tell peoples’ stories. This is our work”.