Media Portrayals of Visible Minorities - Overview

Media speaks volumes about what is important in a society. George Gerbner of Temple University discusses how portrayals in media can affect how children see themselves and others: he argues that if you are over-represented, you see yourself as having many opportunities and choices while if you’re under-represented, you see yourself as having the opposite.

Minelle Mahtani of the University of Toronto agrees: “Ethnic minorities in Canada do not see themselves mirrored in the media, and this perpetuates feelings of rejection, trivialises their contributions, and devalues their role as citizens in their nations” [1]. Since the media grants legitimacy to certain populations by including them and treating them respectfully, fair and equal representation is critical for building a healthy multicultural society.

North American entertainment and news media are not balanced in their portrayal of visible minorities – groups that are visually recognizable as different from the majority culture or ethnicity. In Canada, visible minorities are defined by the Employment Equity Act as “persons, other than Aboriginal peoples, who are non-Caucasian in race or non-white in colour”. According to Statistics Canada, “The [Canadian] visible minority population consists mainly of the following groups: Chinese, South Asian, Black, Arab, West Asian, Filipino, Southeast Asian, Latin American, Japanese and Korean”. Representations of these minority groups are often inadequate or non-existent and when they are portrayed, these portrayals are often stereotyped and demeaning.

The tendency of media to misrepresent visible minorities is particularly problematic in a culturally diverse country like Canada: according to Statistics Canada, more than 200 ethnic groups live here and over 16 per cent of the population belongs to a visible minority. In addition, visible minorities have a particularly strong presence in urban centres. Why, then, does Canadian media not reflect this cultural mosaic, both in terms of on-screen presence and working behind the scenes and in the ways various groups are represented? For example, news reports often misrepresent or under-represent visible minority content, Canadian TV shows have been criticized for failing to include enough visible minority characters, and an overwhelming majority of journalists do not identify as belonging to a visible minority group.

This section explores media representation of visible minorities and outlines common stereotypes facing these groups. It also examines the barriers and obstacles encountered by minorities ‘behind the scenes’ in news and entertainment media, and provides a glimpse into visible minority media production. Finally, Canadian media diversity policies are outlined and potential next steps for balanced and more realistic media portrayals of visible minorities are identified.


[1] Mahtani, M. (2001).Representing minorities: Canadian media and minority identities.Canadian Ethnic Studies/Etudes Ethniques au Canada, 33(3),99-133.

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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