Expansion of Aboriginal Media in Canada

Aboriginal media in Canada has had a turbulent past, and until the 1990’s it saw itself mostly confined to small community based enterprises. However, in 1992 it saw a major boost with the launch of Television Northern Canada, which rebranded and expanded in 1999 to the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network. It provided aboriginal based programming in French, English, and various aboriginal languages.  Furthermore, in terms of publishing, the Aboriginal Multi-Media Society of Alberta established in 1983 found success where many aboriginal publishers had failed. With publications targeting Alberta, Saskatchewan, British Columbia and the Yukon, it prospered after cuts in federal funding that saw numerous aboriginal publishers close.

The logos of three major aboriginal media outlets: Television Northern Canada, which became the Aboriginal People's Network, and the Aboriginal Multi-Media Society of Alberta

However, the expansion of aboriginal media fixed only a portion of the problem faced by aboriginal people within Canada. These outlets were great for informing the aboriginal communities about their own issues and news, but it did little to affect their portrayal and representation in the larger media outlets nationally. Section 3 of the 1991 Broadcasting Act stated the need for programming and employment opportunities to serve the needs of all Canadians, and for an effort to reflect their varied circumstances. Though there was little protest of this section, many in the journalism profession questioned its efficacy and effects. Most saw a rise in tokenism and reverse discrimination due to the required diversity in employment. Many perceived interference in objectivity, balance, professionalism and the culture of the various organizations that were affected. This also occurred at a time of economic hardship especially for the journalism profession that was undergoing major changes, resulting in a “last-hired-first-fired” problem for many organizations that had just hired employees to fill the diversity requirements.

Furthermore, there existed many obstacles for those from the mainstream outlets that attempted to cover aboriginal issues:

  • First, there is the cultural barrier, understanding and accurately reporting on aboriginal issues required extensive understanding of customs and history that vary from community to community.
  • Secondly, those who did attain such knowledge were often considered to have a bias due to their immersion into the culture of those they were covering, resulting in a perceived loss of objectivity. An extreme case of this occurred when Loreen Pindera, a CBC radio reporter, and Geoffrey York of The Globe and Mail remained behind the barricades during the Oka crisis – after so long with the Mohawk protesters the press and government perceived them to be unreliable sources and they received accusations of ‘Stockholm Syndrome’.
  • Thirdly, many journalists practiced self-censorship for fear of being perceived racist due to the issues of race that usually accompany aboriginal issues, especially when they involved tension outside the aboriginal community.
  • Finally, Aboriginal journalists who did get jobs reporting were often slotted into beats related to aboriginal issues, even if they had preferred other positions. Many criticize this for two reasons, due to the stereotyping involved in assuming that an aboriginal reporter was best suited for an aboriginal beat, and secondly if they belonged to the community their critical distance was compromised – they might have promoted interests within the group instead of covering it objectively.

These issues continue to influence the reporting of aboriginal issues in Canada, and though the creation of aboriginal media outlets have alleviated some issues related to ownership, most mainstream media is still affected by these problems.

Joynt, Leslie. Spring 1995. “Too White.” Ryerson Review of Journalism.

Roth, Lorna. 1996. “Cultural and Racial Diversity in Canadian Broadcast Journalism.” In Deadlines and Diversity: Journalism Ethics in a Changing World, eds. Valerie Alia, Brian Brennan, and Barry Hoffmaster, 72-91. Halifax: Fernwood Pub.(excerpt)

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