Persons with disabilities might best be described, in the media at least, as an invisible minority: though a large segment of the population has a physical or mental disability they have been almost entirely absent from the mass media until recent years. Moreover, when persons with disabilities appear they almost always do so in stereotyped roles.
Much in the same way that visible minorities are under- or misrepresented in news media, visible minorities are not accurately portrayed in entertainment media, which tends to reinforce themes that are conveyed in the news. In Canada, these inaccurate representations are often the result of economic factors that affect which forms of media are broadcast and the types of portrayals they include. Although positive change is occurring, it is important that Canadian media content more accurately and fairly reflect the reality of Canadian multiculturalism.
Part of stereotyping is the attitude that all members of a particular group are the same, or else fall into a very small number of types. This is particularly true in the few cases where persons with a disability appear in media
Teachers who include media literacy in their classrooms often face issues that don’t arise in other subjects. Nothing illustrates this better than the issue of diversity in media. It’s not unreasonable for teachers to see the topic as a can of worms and be concerned about offending students and their parents – not to mention worrying about what the students themselves might say. At the same time, it’s a topic that is simply too important to be ignored: what we see in media hugely influences how we see others, ourselves and the world. As a result, an ability to analyze media depictions of diversity is not only a key element of being media literate, it’s essential to understanding many of the social issues and concerns that we face as citizens. That’s why Media Awareness Network has developed That’s Not Me – a new online tutorial for professional development to help educators and community leaders approach this issue through key concepts of media literacy.
Canada is a diverse and multicultural nation, but a major criticism that can be leveled at Canadian media’s treatment of religion is that it does not reflect this diversity. Lack of representation is, for some religions, as considerable an issue as misrepresentation is for others. Media recognition of Canada’s ‘religious mosaic’ and increased coverage of underrepresented religions is the first step towards accurate media portrayal.
Anti-Semitism is experiencing a modern revival in popular media, not only in Canada but worldwide. While Canada, with the fourth largest Jewish population in the world, is not among the nations where anti-Semitism has increased most dramatically, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has nonetheless acknowledged violence against Jewish people as a significant problem in this country . Awareness of media stereotypes and misrepresentations faced by the Jewish community is fundamental in countering this anti-Semitist resurgence with tolerance and acceptance.
Media coverage of Islam-related issues has changed dramatically since the beginning of the new millennium, both in quantity and quality. The events of September 11, 2001, thrust Islam into the global media forefront: not only did coverage of Islam drastically increase, particularly in news and entertainment media, but the way in which Islam was framed by the media changed as well.
Christian religions form the largest religious group in Canada today, with more than 70 per cent of the population identifying with a Christian denomination. The widespread popularity of Christianity in Canada, however, does not mean that media treatment of Christianity is always accurate or informed.