Academic journal article Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal

Representing Minorities: Canadian Media and Minority Identities

Academic journal article Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal

Representing Minorities: Canadian Media and Minority Identities

Article excerpt


This paper provides a critical review of the literature on media representations of minorities in Canada. I suggest that the research tends to focus on tabulating the under-representation and mis-representation of minorities. and that more recent research has examined media ownership, audience reception, ethnic media, and media workers. The paper concludes with some suggestions for future research, drawing on interviews with academics, NGOs, and media workers.

Cet article fournit un examen critique de la litterature sur des representations de medias des minorites au Canada. Je propose que la recherche tende a se concentrer sur tabuler la sous-representation et la fausse declaration des minorities, et qu'une recherche plus recente a examine la propriete de medias, la reception d'assistances, les medias ethniques, et les ouvriers de medias. Le papier conclut avec quelques suggestions pour la future recherche, dessinant sur des entrevues avec l'academics, les NGOs, et les ouvriers de medias.


The portrayal of minorities in Canadian media serves to play a formidable role in shaping the formation of Canadian minority identities. This paper provides a critical review of studies that examine the complex relationship between Canadian media and minorities. (1) Given the auspices of this special issue of Canadian Ethnic Studies, it is important to ask how media representations of minorities affect the construction of identities in Canada. Researchers have insisted that it is imperative to research media-minority relations because the media play a crucial role in the creation of social identities (Henry 1999). The media provides an important source of information through which citizens gain knowledge about their nation, and our attitudes and beliefs are shaped by what the media discerns as public knowledge. The media is directly responsible for how Canada, in all its diversity, is interpreted among its citizens. Simply put, the media is responsible for the ways that Canadian society is interpreted, consid ered, and evaluated among its residents. The media influences attitudes in Canada by siphoning and selecting the information we receive to make choices about our day-to-day realities. However, this selection process is governed by a series of imperatives. Media images of Canadian minorities are not just a random panoply of representations. Decisions about representations of cultural diversity ought to be envisioned within a series of competing discourses taking place within media institutions. Despite what we would like to believe, Canadian media is not fair and democratic, nor objective in nature (Hacknett, Gruneau, Gutstein, Gibson and NewsWatchCanada2000). The "traditional" journalistic focus on balance, objectivity, and impartiality does not mean that everyone receives equal treatment in media representations. Minority groups are regularly excluded and marginalized, and the dominant culture is reinforced as the norm. As Jiwani has noted, "the media are among the richest organizations in society. They cons titute a monopoly of knowledge, and through their practices of selection, editing and production, they determine the kinds of news we receive about our nation" (Jiwani 1995). The media has the power to choose which images of minorities dominate the public domain. As researchers have demonstrated (Fleras and Kunz 2001; Henry 1999) the media propel certain traits, most often negative, about minorities into the spotlight, whilst others are downplayed or completely absent from representations. How does this affect identity formation among minority groups?

Negative depictions of minorities teach minorities in Canada that they are threatening, deviant, and irrelevant to nation-building. These portrayals are damaging to the psyche because they can effectively serve to instill inferiority complexes among minorities. Gist comments: "strong signals are being sent to [minority] youth about what they can become. …

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