Government urged to spend in ethnic media

By RON FANFAIR

Arnold Auguste admits he did not know the difference between community and mainstream journalism when he began writing a column for a Black newspaper nearly four decades ago.

He says his columns focused on the positive things that were happening in the community and prompted him to enroll in Ryerson University’s journalism program before launching Share, Canada’s largest ethnic weekly newspaper, 31 years ago.

“I didn’t realize it then (when I wrote my first set of columns), but what I was doing was classic community journalism,” Auguste told media practitioners at last weekend’s National Ethnic Press and Media Council of Canada’s (NEPMCC) three-day development training seminar at Seneca College in Markham. “And it didn’t take me long to discover that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”

Auguste said the Ryerson program did not focus on community or ethnic journalism.

“I learned a lot at Ryerson,” he said. “It was a great program and is, in large part, responsible for my being able to do much of what I do today. But we learned the mainstream way of doing things…Community or ethnic journalism is more about community building. We report from inside the community, as part of the community, and not as someone on the outside looking in.

“We understand our community’s needs and concerns and when we address them, we relate to our readers and they relate to us in a way that the mainstream media will never understand.

“We are not just journalists…We are active participants in the life and welfare of our respective communities…That’s why we continue to be relevant, that’s why we continue to exist and that’s why all of you – all of us – are here today.

“The mainstream media will never be able to cover our communities the way we do because their mindset is different to ours.”

Auguste, a founder and longtime member of the NEPMCC, called on the government and major corporations to spend more of their advertising budget in the ethnic media.

“We are not asking for a handout or even a hand up,” he said. “What we are saying is that you spend millions of our tax dollars in advertising each year to promote your programs and services to Canadians. Well, we are Canadians also. And, a lot of people in our communities do not read or listen to or view any other media than their community media.

“When we take your photo and put it in our papers, when we write a story about you and what you are doing for our community in particular or for Canadians in general and we place it on our pages, when we hire graphic artists, editors and printers to get that story on the streets and into the hands of our readers, it costs money. If you believe that we are that important to community building as you say we are, show us the money. That also goes for major companies, many of whose customers look like us.”

In last Saturday’s lunchtime keynote address following Auguste’s presentation, Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, Jason Kenney, said the federal government intends to increase advertising in the ethno-cultural media.

“As a general principle, what Prime Minister Stephen Harper and I have said throughout the government to every ministry is that we need to have a much more significant presence of government messages in ethno-cultural media to reach viewers, readers and listeners,” he said.

Kenney said one of the first things the Conservative Party did when it assumed office three years ago was to massively expand the government’s monitoring of what the ethnic media is saying and writing.

“Believe it or not, there are many bureaucrats in Ottawa who believe that if it wasn’t mainstream and if it wasn’t English or French, then it wasn’t really happening,” Kenney said. “I had to explain to many of our officials that there are ethno-cultural media outlets that have more readers, viewers and listeners than many so-called major mainstream media outlets in some of our large cities.

“You perform a very important function because your outlets are able to keep new Canadians in touch with the developments in their countries of origin. Many of you are able to explain to readers, viewers and listeners political and social developments in Canada for those who have limited English and French language abilities. And, many of you, at the same time, advance the cause of integration and you promote what I call civic literacy. You help to increase the awareness of the quarter of Canadians born abroad about what’s happening here in Canadian democracy and you help to advance the engagement of people in our democracy. This government is paying very close attention to the voices you represent.”

Over 150 media executives and journalists representing ethnic newspapers, magazines, radio, television and Internet programming across Canada attended the weekend event.

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