Visible Minorities in News Media

Objectivity and accuracy are among the most important journalistic values. Consistently, however, Canadian news media has underrepresented and stereotyped visible minority groups.

A 1994 study found that only 14 per cent of news reports in six major newspapers dealt with content relating to minorities [1] while in the cities in which those newspapers were published – Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal – an average of 20 per cent of the population belong to a visible minority. (47 per cent of Toronto’s population identifies themselves as being part of a visible minority.)

Various studies have shown that distorted images of visible minorities are prevalent in news media. News reports are framed around cultural narratives that reflect a structured storytelling process, where certain groups are often positioned as ‘villains’ and others are portrayed as ‘heroes’ [2]. For example, Whites are often shown in Canadian news media to be heroic or morally upstanding when compared to a ‘villain’ from a visible minority, particularly in stories about crime. Through this process of storytelling, the media reinforce ideas about who is trustworthy and untrustworthy, who is a ‘troublemaker’ and who should be feared.

Minelle Mahtani warns that representations of cultural diversity must be considered in the context of who decides what is and is not news [3]. In Canada, news is often framed in a context that privileges the White majority by portraying majority members in a positive light. Further, the news industry overwhelmingly favours sources that are affiliated with government, which often results in only one side of a story being told – the side interpreted by majority group members. [4] This framing incorporates gender inequality as well as racial inequality, with White males traditionally positioned as authority figures or ‘experts’. [5]

When visible minorities are portrayed in news media, they are frequently shown as deviants, social problems or a threat to the ideal ‘Canadian’ way of life. [6] These news representations also support cultural stereotypes: for example, images of Muslims or Arabs as terrorists or mistreating women through female circumcision, forced marriage and “honour killings.” This demonstrates Mahtani’s point that moral panics – public outcries about certain issues or certain populations, usually generated by the media – have arisen in Canada as a result of negative portrayals of Asian and Middle Eastern minorities. [7]

Visible minorities are also frequently represented as being unlawful or criminal. [8] Sociologist Dennis Rome writes that contemporary news media have given crime a ‘black face’, despite statistics that suggest rates of committed crime are actually lower among minority populations and that Black populations are more likely to be victims of crime. [9] These depictions of minorities – especially African Canadians or African Americans – as criminal are then used to justify racism. Black-on-Black crime is rarely reported, and victims are disproportionately represented as White victims of Black crime. [10]

Minority groups face a comparative lack of social and economic power, even when they aren’t necessarily a minority numerically. These social inequalities can also be seen in news reporting. A 2007 study of newspaper headlines in California - where the Hispanic population outnumbers the White population - showed that although the Hispanic population was numerically greater, stories involving this group were framed in a way that privileged being White. Stories centered on the White community were longer and focused on politics and identity, while stories with minority content were shorter and usually involved contentious social issues and portrayals of minority populations as different from the White social – but not numerical - majority. [11]

 


[1] Mahtani, M. (2001). Representing minorities: Canadian media and minority identities. Canadian Ethnic Studies/Etudes Ethniques au Canada, 33(3), 99-133.
[2] Baht, V., Mihelj, S.,& Pankov, M. (2009). Television news, narrative conventionsand national imagination. Discourse & Communication, 3(1), 57-78.
[3] Mahtani, 2001.
[4] Ungerleider, C. S. (1991). Media, minorities and misconceptions: the portrayal by andrepresentation of minorities in Canadian news media. Canadian Ethnic Studies/Etudes Ethniques au Canada, 23(3),158-164.
[5] Mahtani,2001.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Rome, D. (2004). Black demons: the media’s depiction of the African American male criminal stereotype. Westport, Conn.: Praeger.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Atudel, H. et al. (2007) Media representations of majority and minority groups. European Journal of Social Psychology, 37(3), 561-572.

 

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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