Racial and Cultural Diversity and Canadian Broadcasting Policy

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 aboriginal peoples within that society.” The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) is also specifically directed to “reflect the multicultural and multiracial nature of Canada” and other broadcasters are instructed to “reflect Canada’s regions and multicultural nature.”[1]

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 percent Canadian content, while all television stations must include a minimum of 50 percent Canadian content during primetime hours (6-11pm), but in 2015 removed the mandatory 55 percent quota for TV stations showing Canadian content during the day.[2] Despite the existence of these policies, many networks are able to find ways around including minority or Canadian content during prime-time. Such strategies include turning off broadcasting during the night to decrease the amount of total airtime 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 percent of programming to visible minority content; further, half the content of all such media must be in a third language (other than English, French or an Indigenous language).

Research conducted by the CRTC yielded six suggestions for improving diversity in Canadian media:

  • Ensure more cultural diversity among members of the CRTC.
  • Review the portrayal in media with members of groups being depicted.
  • Approach various groups themselves to explore how they want to be portrayed.
  • Provide guidelines for broadcasters regarding representation and portrayal of groups in society.
  • Have a committee review and analyse a cross-section of programs and make recommendations.
  • Focus more on portrayal than representation. How people are portrayed is more important than their representation.[3]

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.[4]

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.[5]

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 isn’t regulated in the same way as television and radio. Many print and online news outlets are members of the National NewsMedia Council,[6] which also provides links to resources such as the Ethnic Media & Diversity Style Guide. While the Council does not have a code of practice regarding diversity issues, it does adjudicate complaints on those issues. Quebec also has its own press council, the Conseil de Presse du Québec.[7] 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 racially and culturally diverse portrayal in media by choosing to support works that portray diversity in a positive way.

See MediaSmarts’ guide Talk Back! How to Take Action on Media Issues for more information on how to make a complaint with a media or regulatory organization.


[1] Broadcasting Act (S.C. 1991, c. 11) Retrieved from https://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/B-9.01/

[2] (2015). CRTC eases Canadian-content quota for TV. CBC News. Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/news/business/crtc-eases-canadian-content-quotas-for-tv-1.2992132

[3] (2017) “Cultural Diversity in Canadian Media.” Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission. Retrieved from https://epe.lac-bac.gc.ca/100/200/301/pwgsc-tpsgc/por-ef/crtc/2017/063-16-e/report.html

[4] (2008) Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ Equitable Portrayal Code. Canadian Association of Broadcasters. Retrieved from  https://www.cab-acr.ca/english/social/codes/epc.htm

[5] (2002) Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ Code of Ethics. Canadian Association of Broadcasters. Retrieved from https://www.cab-acr.ca/english/social/codes/ethics.shtm

[6] (n.d.) Member News Organizations. National NewsMedia Council. Retrieved from  https://www.mediacouncil.ca/about-us-ethics-journalism/member-news-organizations/

[7] (n.d.) Welcome to the Quebec Press Council. Conseil de presse du Québec. Retrieved from  https://conseildepresse.qc.ca/en/