Press, Public Sphere, and Pluralism: Multiculturalism Debates in Canadian English-Language Newspapers

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

The value of multiculturalism has been an almost consistent concern in Canadian newspapers since the establishment of the policy in 1971. Writers periodically express strong opinions about how well or how poorly it has performed. The nature of the arguments are usually shaped by the commentators' respective interpretations of the policy's objectives, including the following: the complete assimilation of minorities into the mainstream and the abandonment of their cultural traditions; the integration of immigrants into Canadian society as they continue to retain aspects of their own cultures; the fostering of Canadian citizenship; the elimination of racism; the establishment of equality; encouraging better inter-cultural relations; funding minority cultures; privileging minorities; promoting cultural relativism; and curbing Quebecois nationalism. At the two ends of the discursive range are arguments that insist, on the one hand, that multiculturalism is leading to the disintegration of Canadian society (e.g., Brigitte Pellerin, Gazette, March 8, 2006) and, on the other, that it is strengthening the nation in which Canadians of various backgrounds have a sense of belonging (e.g., Giles Gherson, Toronto Star, June 24, 2006).

Habermas's (1991) model of the public sphere offers a conceptual framework within which to understand media debates (see also Dahlgren 1995). Whereas his original ideas have been criticized for privileging only middle and upper dass European males (Calhoun 1992), the notion of <

Of course, this does not provide an ideal public sphere where anyone wishing to express an opinion is able to do so. Press content carries only a certain range of (privileged) voices. Editorial staff and regular columnists have the greatest access to print space. Op-ed contributors generally have to convince newspapers of the value of their contributions in order to get published, as do letter-writers. Editors retain the upper hand in being able to filter the views that are presented to them - this may operate according to rational-critical criteria or ideological ones. Therefore, the examination of press content does not provide insight into the entire spectrum of opinions that exist on a topic. However, due to the place they have in the public sphere, newspaper materiais contain among the most prominent set of expressions in a given society. Documentary and call-in programs of mainstream broadcasters also enable the public voicing of opinions, as do the "public sphericules" (Cunningham and Sinclair 2001; Karim 2002b; Karim 2003b) of ethnic media. Similarly, online material has the advantage of drawing Internet users' attention. However, the scope of this paper is limited to the examination of large-circulation dailies.

METHODOLOGY

A Lexis-Nexis search was conducted using the keyword "multiculturalism" for the period January 1, 2006 to December 31, 2006. Eight large-circulation English-language dailies located in seven metropolitan areas and one nationally-distributed paper were selected for the search: the Calgary Herald, the Edmonton Journal, the Globe and Mail, the (Halifax) Chronicle-Herald, the Ottawa Citizen, the (Montreal) Gazette, the Toronto Star, the Vancouver Sun, and the Winnipeg Free Press. They represent the largest Canadian media corporations with English-language print holdings: CanWest Global, Bell Globemedia, Torstar, FP Canadian Newspapers, and Halifax Herald Limited. In order to ensure that the analysis was manageable for the purposes of the present study, only editoriais, journalists' columns, op-eds, and letters to editors were chosen for examination. This yielded a total of 92 items (excluding those republished in sister newspapers). …