Diversity and Canadian Broadcasting Policy

Broadcasting Act: Canada’s Broadcasting Act, last amended in 1991, outlines industry guidelines for portrayal of diversity.

According to the Act, Canadian broadcasting should “serve the needs and interests, and reflect the circumstances and aspirations, of Canadian men, women and children, including equal rights, linguistic duality and the multicultural and multiracial nature of Canadian society, and the special place of Aboriginals within that society.” The Act specifies that media employment practices should reflect Canada’s diversity.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) is responsible for administering the Broadcasting Act. In addition to the requirements of the Broadcasting Act, the CRTC has imposed mandatory content requirements for Canadian radio and television. Although there are no content requirements for talk radio, music radio must include a minimum of 35 per cent Canadian content, while all television stations must include a minimum of 60 per cent yearly and 50 per cent prime-time Canadian content. Despite the existence of these policies, many networks are able to find ways around including minority or Canadian content, especially during prime-time. Such strategies include turning off broadcasting during the night to decrease the amount of total airtime, airing required content during off-peak hours, and airing Canadian content that is geared primarily toward an American market. The Ethnic Broadcasting Policy requires that all visible minority radio and television stations devote at least 60 per cent of programming to visible minority content; further, half the content of all visible minority media must be in a third language (other than English, French or an Aboriginal language).

Voluntary Diversity Codes

In 1999, the Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB), created a voluntary code for portrayal of diversity in the media. The guidelines under the Equitable Portrayal Code require that broadcasters’ commitment to cultural diversity be reflected in hiring and training practices. Nearly all Canadian media outlets are members of the CAB, and as such, are expected to:

  • Ensure balanced coverage of news and respect the principle of equitable portrayal of all individuals.
  • Refrain from broadcasting stories, news items or imagery that may incite hatred or contempt of others, based on ethnic or national heritage, skin colour or religion.
  • Be sensitive to the use of offensive language or stereotypical portrayals of minorities.
  • Avoid the broadcasting of content that has the effect of unduly deriding the myths, traditions or practices of groups on the basis of their race, national or ethnic origin.

The issue of diversity is also addressed by the CAB’s Code of Ethics. This code prohibits the broadcasting of abusive or discriminatory material based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status or physical or mental disability.

The application of these guidelines is overseen by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC), an industry organization that hears viewer complaints about programming content and tries to resolve them through mediation at the local level, between broadcaster and complainant. Most complaints are resolved this way.

The Canadian newspaper industry is not regulated in the same way as television and radio. Although the Canadian Newspaper Association’s statement of principles stresses the need to accurately represent the community, there is no clear commitment to achieving diversity in Canada’s newsrooms or in Canadian news content. Most newspapers belong to provincial or regional press councils, and all have policies on the portrayal of visible minorities. But, since the industry is self-regulated and membership in these councils is voluntary, there is no formal mechanism in place to ensure compliance with these regulations. The Canadian music and video game industries currently have no guidelines on diversity portrayal, but consumers can complain directly to the companies that make these products and may influence visible minority portrayal in media by choosing to support works that portray diversity in a positive way.

Diversity in Media Toolbox

The Diversity and Media Toolbox is a comprehensive suite of resources that explores issues relating to stereotyping, bias and hate in mainstream media and on the Internet. The program includes professional development tutorials, lesson plans, interactive student modules and background articles.

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