The early slate of six so-called front-runner candidates in the current Toronto mayoral race has essentially been decided by local news media which focused the spotlight on these candidates to the exclusion of some other serious contenders. And, with the exception of the one woman who was among the chosen, there largely because of the novelty of her gender – together with the fact that, as a magazine publisher, she is also a member of the media – the other five are all White males.
Editorial boards – themselves mainly comprised of White males – made the decision as to who is considered a front-runner, and who their reporters will focus on. One newspaper seems to have already begun to focus its attention – and, ostensibly, its support – on a specific candidate.
Therein lies a challenge that we face here in one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world. Media executives can decide on whom to put the spotlight among those running for political office and in so doing skew the chances of election in favour of the chosen. These are the people who, once elected, will manage the affairs of the city that affect all of us on a daily basis.
Up to now, this system has played into the observable outcome that ethnic and gender representation at Toronto City Council does not begin to mirror the population in this city. So how important is it that we have a broader range of ethnicities represented on editorial boards, especially here in Toronto?
A recent study by Ryerson University’s Diversity Institute underlines this issue. The study, DiverseCity Counts, found that while 49.5 per cent of our local population can be identified as ‘visible minority’ only 14 per cent of leaders are drawn from that broad grouping. News media, which have such an impact on our everyday lives, come in at an even lower percentage.
According to the study, federally regulated corporations subject to the Employment Equity Act are doing a better job of ensuring diversity in their leadership than those in the private sector, including the news media, which are at 4.8 per cent compared to 4.1 per cent in the broader private sector.
It is due to the Employment Equity Act that there are more individuals across a range of ethnicities represented at the university executive level and in banks. In the television industry, which is federally regulated, we see a broader range of ethnic diversity in front of the camera as well as a significant female presence, yet the executives who make the weightier decisions are not similarly diverse.
Given the current pattern, it could be decades before someone will be recruited from an ethnic pool of talent to assume the stature of a Peter Mansbridge. At least, CTV plans to replace Lloyd Robertson, upon his retirement, with a woman, Lisa LaFlamme. Similarly, Global Television has announced that Dawna Friesen will replace Kevin Newman as news anchor and executive editor.
The study’s focus on the media is important because news media have the power to significantly influence public opinion. How news stories about members of ethnic communities are translated to the public leaves an impression on the broader community for better or for worse. The decisions about which activities to highlight and in what manner are within the power of the editors in newsrooms. There may not categorically be ill intentions when stories are covered with a negative slant regarding, for example, the Black community, but there is not enough of an ethnic balance in the makeup of the editorial executive to be able to knowledgably and objectively shape many of the issues that arise. If there isn’t a single editorial member from the Black community keenly in touch with the community then it becomes that much easier to objectify Black people when stories involving us are reported in the mainstream. That has been very clear all along.
There is no shortage of qualified individuals who can be drawn into editorial boards for the good of this city and all its people, but media decision makers need to get on with the business of laying the foundation for a balanced society instead of contributing to what we have now, a growing underclass.