The Value of Truth in the Fake News Era

We have all heard the phrase “fake news” bandied about over the last couple of years, most notably by and in the context of Donald Trump. Though the US President uses the term to attack the press, NCM wanted to get to the real root of the phrase. We especially wanted to contextualize it for news and politics.

This past weekend, the first of three “Fake vs Fact” workshops organized in collaboration with New Canadian Media, ByBlacks.com and the National Newsmedia Council, took place in Toronto at Centennial College’s Story Arts Centre. The purpose of the workshop was to discuss fake news. The workshop looked at how to spot fake news, how to stop it and how to define it. To discuss fake news’ consequences was a major factor for the gathering of news professionals and community members.

Members of the audience learning about “fake news” at New Canadian Media’s “Fake vs Fact” workshop held in Toronto. Photography by Marcus Medford.

What is fake news, really?

“Fake news” has been said so often that it has become a catch-all term that has lost meaning. When people discuss fake news, two other words that often come up are misinformation and disinformation. Misinformation is information that is not accurate. For example, if I were to say “the current prime minister of Canada is Pierre Trudeau,” that would be misinformation. Think of misinformation as “mistaken information.”

Disinformation is information that is false and spread with the explicit intention of deceiving. If, for example, I said “I am the current prime minister of Canada,” that would be disinformation. Think of disinformation as “dishonest information.” Disinformation is meant to fuel insecurities, stoke fears and create division. It has a motive or an agenda to push, whether personal, financial or political. When people say something is “fake news” they are likely accusing the information of being disinformation.

The term “fake news” is also inaccurate because usually, the false information circulating is not spread by a legitimate news organization or an accredited member of the media. Fake news is typically shared via social media, which is problematic because it allows little accountability. It is difficult to verify information but easy to share on social media. On these platforms, content that gets a lot of engagement gets ranked higher. It will hence show up earlier in search results and on newsfeeds/timelines, increasing the likelihood that it will be seen.

Responsible journalism: consumption

Sharing is a huge problem when it comes to disinformation. That saying “a lie gets halfway around the world before the truth can get its pants on,” is particularly true when it comes to disinformation online. It can take hours to fact-check a story, which not everyone knows how to do. Also, it is rare to be punished for spreading disinformation online.

Journalist Susana Mas explains to the audience some of the tools available for combating fake news, such as how to do a reverse image search. Photography by Marcus Medford.

One of the speakers at the workshop, award-winning journalist Susana Mas, recommended that people create a checklist of questions they must answer before deciding to share a post. She said that we should ask ourselves questions like, who’s sharing this information, do you trust them and what’s the original source? It is important to consider the source of the information itself and not just the person who has presented that information to you because while you might trust the person sharing the post, you might not trust their sources.

Mas stressed the importance of viewing media like pictures and videos with a critical lens, even seemingly-innocent things like memes. It is important not to react too emotionally or too quickly when it comes to headlines and tweets, Mas remarked.

“Words matter. And we all have a role to play” as both producers and consumers of news, she added.

Responsible journalism: production

Responsible journalism is of the utmost importance given the prevalence of disinformation and misinformation ahead about the federal election. Performing journalism responsibly means being transparent with your information: revealing what you know, what you don’t know and how you came to know what you do, including providing links and sources.

It is okay to not know something, or to have incomplete information, or to say that the story is being followed and will be updated. Again, in the age of fake news, it’s more important to be accurate than to be first.

Being a responsible journalist means accepting that you have a bias. Biases evolve from our experiences and perceptions, both of which are unique to every individual. If you can identify your bias, you are better equipped to keep this in check and make sure they do not bleed into your work.

Another aspect of responsible journalism is not spreading stereotypes or hurtful tropes about people, particularly marginalized groups. Words matter and so do the connotations of the words you use. For example, referring to immigrants or refugees coming to a country as an “invasion” is both inaccurate and inappropriate because it has a negative image and a negative connotation to it.

Eva Salinas warns the crowd about the dangers of fake news and misinformation and the effects they could have ahead of the federal election in October. Photography by Marcus Medford.

“Change starts with individuals, and it’s important that we start,” said Eva Salinas.

Salinas is the managing editor of OpenCanada.org and a journalism instructor. She was one of the speakers on Saturday. According to Salinas, people care about the issue of fake news and want to get involved, but do not always know-how.

Salinas said that our individual voices are more important now than ever: “We all use our voice in different ways, and we have to use them responsibly.”

The future and fake news

I, like workshop speaker Brent Jolly, the director of communications, research and community management with the National Newsmedia Council, found our conversation encouraging.

In the era of fake news, I see our role as journalists as being similar to that of climate scientists. We have to share what we know with the public because the issue affects us all. We cannot deny the problem or run away from it because the effects are real, and if we don’t act the consequences could be dire.

Dear Trudeau, I’m Not Mad, Just Disappointed

Four years ago was the first time I was able to participate in a federal election. I was in the third year of my journalism program. I was beginning to develop the casual cynicism that is so common among journalists when it comes to politics. So when Justin Trudeau won while talking about issues like truth and reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples and the importance of diversity, I genuinely started to believe that politics could be done differently. 

Now, just over a week into the new federal election campaign, Trudeau is in hot water after images of him in racist costumes emerged. Three separate instances of the PM dressed in brownface or blackface have surfaced since Wednesday night. First, Time magazine released a photo of Trudeau at an “Arabian Nights”-themed gala hosted by West Point Grey Academy, at which he taught, dressed as Aladdin. Trudeau was 29 at the time and the only person photographed in brownface. The second incident is a photo of Trudeau performing the song “Day-O” at his high school’s talent show, “wearing makeup.” Then, in a video shot in the early ‘90s obtained by Global, Trudeau can be seen wearing blackface. 

What is blackface/brownface?

Dressing in blackface is the practice of non-black people darkening their skin and exacerbating stereotypes to mock black people. Blackface in the 1820s involved minstrels using exaggerated accents, malapropisms and outlandish clothes to ridicule black people. It has been used to belittle, dehumanize and spread harmful stereotypes about black people. Calixa Laval, the composer of the Canadian national anthem, travelled as a blackface minstrel. 

The first person of colour (POC) to lead a major Canadian political party, Jagmeet Singh of the New Democratic Party, was “jarred” seeing Trudeau in brownface. Singh has previously opened up about his experiences with racism and gave an emotional statement in response.

“Any time we hear examples of brownface or blackface … it’s making a mockery of someone for what they live and what their lived experiences are,” Singh remarked.

Trudeau said that he didn’t think his actions were racist at the time but now realizes that they were. He has since apologized and asked that Canadians forgive him, adding that he’s “pissed off” with himself.

As a POC, I’m pissed and disappointed too

I’m upset that a well-educated, 29-year-old teacher didn’t have the sense to realize that brownface and blackface are racist. It is concerning considering that Trudeau became the Liberal’s critic for youth and multiculturalism in 2009, then the critic for citizenship and immigration in 2010.

As Tariq Amin-Khan, an associate professor of political science at Ryerson University, points out, “at one level (his response) shows that Justin Trudeau’s understanding about race and racism doesn’t seem to have deep roots.”

Trudeau embraced minority groups and Canada’s multiculturism during his time in office. At one point, seven of his 35 Cabinet members were ethnic minorities. In the wake of this scandal, we wonder if Trudeau was showing a genuine desire for diversity and inclusion, or just tokenism or overcompensation?

Last February, Trudeau announced that Canadians must address the anti-black racism affecting more than one million black Canadians. He then called for equal opportunity and equal treatment for black Canadians.

However, with this scandal, it is hard to take the prime minister’s words seriously. By wearing blackface, Trudeau failed to treat black people with the respect we deserve and robbed us of the opportunity to define and represent ourselves. Blackface attempts to establish essential differences between POCs and white people and suggests that black people are inferior as a matter of biology. Regardless of Trudeau’s intentions, the three images of him support this ideology.

A look to the election

Singh said that the blackface incident is an “ongoing pattern of behaviour that’s really going to hurt Canadians.” I agree and disagree. I agree that Trudeau’s actions have hurt many Canadians and that they’re part of a bigger pattern. However, I do not believe that Trudeau is a racist who hates black and brown people. 

The disappointing pattern I’ve noticed with Trudeau is the dissonance between his actions and his words. I was jarred when I saw the images of Trudeau. How could someone who champions multiculturalism and immigration do something like that? But it fits the larger narrative. Justin Trudeau the climate change activist who approved the Trans Atlantic Pipeline; the feminist who kicked Jane Philpott and Jodie Wilson-Raybould out of his Cabinet for disagreeing with him.

I understand that politicians are complicated and that it’s important to avoid making sweeping conclusions around election time. But I will say this: before voting this Fall, remember to carefully consider the politician and the platform. Consider the claims they make about themselves and their opponents; consider what issues matter most to you and vote for the candidate who will disappoint you the least.

The Immigrant’s Dilemna: An Interview with Richard Young

Many children-of-immigrants are told that the only acceptable careers are lawyer, doctor, engineer and accountant. Anything outside of the narrow definition of a “traditional” job is deemed unacceptable and is often seen as a failure. This was the reality for Richard Young growing up with his parents who immigrated to Canada.

“You see things from TV or film, but you have no real tangible connection to it because you know what you know,” he said to New Canadian Media.

Young’s father worked at an engineering company; so when it came time to choose a university program, engineering made sense.

“I was at Queen’s University, and after my first year I realized I couldn’t do it. Not that it was too hard, but I hated it,” Young revealed.

Eventually, Young completed his MBA at the Schulich School of Business then worked as a brand manager.

However, “I was miserable,” he explained. “I was talking to a colleague who worked beside me and she was so in love with marketing, and the products and branding and I thought to myself, ‘I just want to love my job the way my colleague does.’ And I knew it wasn’t that, it was the arts. So I quit my job — my well-paying job — and moved back in with my parents.”

Young is currently realizing his passion, working as a writer and an actor. His latest film, Maternal, is about a girl, born in Canada with a Caribbean mother, who’s waiting for an acceptance letter from her dream arts program. In the film, the mother has to make a heart-wrenching decision about her child’s artistic future because the family has limited resources.

The premise of the film came from the discord that arose between Young and his family because of his decision to pursue an artistic career. Giving up his stable, traditional job led to fights and strained relationships with his family, leaving Young feeling angry and hurt.

Young spoke to NCM about Maternal, his family and careers in the arts.

Richard Young. (IMDB)

Richard Young: Of course, my parents were not happy. At first, I thought it was because they were ashamed of who I am. But later I realized the reason for all those fights was love. I started to look at it from my parent’s perspective; they came here to give me a better life and then they saw me struggle as an artist. Even now that I’m doing fairly well, if I’d stayed with my traditional job, I’d be in a better position with better job security. So for my parents, it wasn’t about shame; it was more about not being able to give me the life they wanted to because of what I wanted to do. The arts is an industry that’s non-traditional and all about connections. Yes, there’s schools and programs you can take, but it’s really about who you know, more so than other careers I’ve been in. Actors, writers, agents, casting directors, producers – when you’re in high school nobody knows what these careers are or how to reach them. When I had my audition for the acting program at Humber, the program’s director treated my dream as a reality. And it wasn’t that my friends and family were saying “you don’t have what it takes to be an actor.” For them, there was no tangible way (to make my dream happen). Whereas this program’s director was a professional actor himself, so to him it wasn’t just some fantasy.

Marcus Medford: If you weren’t able to use your family as a resource or support system, who did you turn to?

RY: In university, I started to open up more because I was away from my hometown. That’s when I started to get involved in more plays and writing humour articles. When I finally made the leap to the Humber program, the good thing about those two years was, in addition to the actor training, they also brought in professional actors and casting directors etc. There was more of the formal process of “here’s what to do.”

MM: Who do you think was most disappointed by your decision to pursue a career in the arts?

RY:  When  I was changing careers, having fights, it seemed like my parents were just disappointed in me. But underneath all anger is fear, and underneath all anger is hurt, so I don’t want to say disappointment. What I think they felt is sad and hurt. When they see me struggle it hurts them. If anything they feel disappointed in themselves.

MM: Was there a particular incident which lead you to write Maternal?

RY: I know my parents love me wholeheartedly, but if they had the ability to go inside my brain, change the part of me that loves the arts, and change it so that I loved accounting or engineering or some traditional career, they would. And it’s not because they hate who I am; they just want me to have enough money to be happy. They don’t want me to have to struggle the way they did. And I think that’s where the anger and the fights came from; that’s where my inspiration came from.

MM: What have your experiences writing this film and the conversations with your parents taught you about “adulting?”

RY: When the audience finds out the mother is hiding her daughter’s arts program acceptance letter, some people will probably think, “how dare you destroy your child’s dream?” and then other people will say “I get it. It hurts, but I get it.” The broader discussion I’d like to take place beyond whether you’re pro-mom or not is that this unfair arts industry exists where decisions like this have to happen, and that’s wrong. Where people have the talent, but because their financial situations or a lack of opportunities parents can give their kids, children’s dreams are denied. Ironically, aspirations are a privilege.

MM: Is the mom the villain in this film?

RY: If anything, this movie is a massive indictment of the art industry: this is why underprivileged people can’t get ahead. The arts need to be more inclusionary.

MM: What kind of conversations are you hoping the audience will have after the film?

RY: For any frustrated artists who feel like their parents aren’t supporting them, hopefully, this movie humanizes the parent. For the parents who are against their kids doing something non-traditional, hopefully seeing the parent make that decision will make them take a step back. I hope there’s forgiveness on both ends.

MM: For parents who aren’t supportive of their children’s choices and aspirations, what would you say to them?

RY: You need to ask yourself why you don’t support it. If the reason is because it’s a financial risk, personally, that’s realistic. Then you have to work with your kids to figure out how they’re going to bring in income, like taking a business or entrepreneurship course. Or what are the connections you need to make? If it’s a shame thing, that’s an entirely different issue. Then you need to ask yourself what you care more about, loving your child or your ego?


Young is currently realizing his passion (and no longer living with his parents), working as a writer and an actor. His acting credits include Kim’s Convenience (CBC), Jett (Cinemax), and Taken (NBC) and his writing credits include 16 Hudson (TVO Kids) and Sudden Master (Rogers/OMNI).

Maternal can be seen at the CaribbeanTales Film Festival in Toronto, Sept. 4 onward.

J-school students value learning to report on diversity

Originally published by New Canadian Media

Journalism students say they find value in learning how to report on immigration and race issues. Many would like to see more specialized courses focused on diversity and inclusive reporting.

“There’s never been a time in my life when this has been more important,” says second-year journalism student from the University of Toronto, Tijuana Turner, referring to the current refugee situation and Justin Trudeau pledging to bring 25,000 Syrians to Canada.

“For example, describing it as a ‘flood’ of refugees isn’t okay when most people associate a flood with disaster,” she explains.

Turner moved to Canada from Jamaica two years ago to study at the University of Toronto’s Scarborough campus (UTSC). She says the course Covering Immigration and Transnational Issues” offered at UTSC, which teaches students to analyze news coverage, has helped raise her awareness.

“[D]escribing it as a ‘flood’ of refugees isn’t okay when most people associate a flood with disaster.”

The course includes material on how media outlets frame stories related to race and immigration and how these frames can shape people’s perspective. Before taking it, certain things went over Turner’s head, she explains, but she’s become more critical.

“You shouldn’t start by saying ‘Refugee Tom…’ That’s not inclusion, that’s ‘us vs. them.’ You should try saying, ‘Tom, who is a refugee,’” Turner explains.

Teaching critical journalism

datejie green is the Asper Fellow of Media at Western University and a lecturer at UTSC.

green teaches “Critical Journalism”, which she describes as a “mobilizing, embodied, intersectional approach to journalism” meant to give students a fresh set of eyes to critically engage journalism. The course examines how media cultures address gender, ability, class, sexuality and race.

“We want to learn about intersectional ways of thinking and mobilize that critical analysis to make sense of everything and write respectfully,” green shares. “These are not static, abstract ideas that we learn and leave in classrooms; these are things journalists need to have at their disposal.”

Class discussions involve examining the impact and importance of perspective in media. green’s objective is to cross cultural divides in a humanizing way. She says she is open with students about her experiences – as a woman, as someone who’s black, lives with mental illness and is a lesbian – and how it relates to perspective.

“That shouldn’t detract from my validity as a journalist or a teacher; it’s just a frame. But it allows me to explain how my body is experienced, why and what’s the impact,” green explains.

Students become aware of different perspectives, which helps journalists “not to write from pre-conceived ideas or ignorance.”

Fatima Al-Sayed is a second-year journalism student in green’s class. She says the course is “extremely important” because students become aware of different perspectives, which helps journalists “not to write from pre-conceived ideas or ignorance.”

“As a woman who wears a hijab, I know the image the media portrays of me because it’s my day-to-day life,” Al-Sayed explains. “I feel like my role in journalism is to change that perspective, but I can’t if I get pulled into that kind of thinking.”

Integrating diversity lessons throughout j-school

Specialized courses aren’t the only way to teach these concepts in journalism school. At Langara College in British Columbia, lessons about perspective and diversity are integrated into every course, explains Frances Bula, chair of the journalism program.

Bula says that in addition to having classrooms and newsrooms that are ethnically diverse, it’s crucial for students to understand the importance of diversifying their sources.

“From day one, we talk about the importance of diversity and the dangers of getting too comfortable talking with people from a similar age, gender, race, or income background,” Bula explains.

Journalists should also look to groups who may not have access to the media or may not speak perfect English, Bula adds.

Petti “Peg” Fong, the assistant department chair at Langara, says courses solely about reporting on race and ethnicity aren’t necessary for journalism students. 

She adds, though, that it’s important for students to understand that audiences and sources come from all different backgrounds to help prevent stereotypes being perpetuated by the media. This is taught throughout other courses, she explains.

[N]ews gathering should be more inclusive … or else it runs the risk of stereotyping and misrepresenting.

Students’ role in addressing media bias

A study from Australia noted that negative and stereotypical coverage of Muslims can foster alienation, which plays into the hands of extremists, says Brad Clark, the journalism and broadcasting chair at Mount Royal University in Calgary. Clark did his doctoral dissertation on representations of ethno-cultural minorities in Canadian media.

Clark says that news gathering should be more inclusive, especially stories that focus on specific communities, or else it runs the risk of stereotyping and misrepresenting.

He also says that journalism students can play an important role in addressing implicit biases of mainstream media.

“They must be allowed to influence news gathering when it strays into the realm of the stereotypic,” he says. “Students need to understand that sometimes it is OK to explore the experience of race, that talking about race isn’t the same as being racist.”

These issues have become increasingly relevant for j-school students to explore, says Lysia Filotas, a second-year journalism student at Carleton University in Ottawa. Carleton, like Langara doesn’t have a course dedicated to reporting on race and ethnicity, but incorporates it in lessons, something Filotas finds valuable.

“As a reporter, it’s important to learn how these topics colour one’s world views and how not to project that onto someone else during the interview and writing process,” she explains.

Economic Integration for immigrants in small cities

Originally published on New Canadian Media 

Settlement agencies in Canada’s Atlantic provinces are working closely with provincial governments to better service immigrants, but say they need federal support to attract newcomers to smaller communities.

The provinces and territories select which immigrants they want to accept based on their local economic needs. In the past 15 years, the number of immigrants settling in the Maritimes has increased, but their numbers remain the lowest of all the provinces, explained Ather H. Akbari, an economics professor at St. Mary’s University in Halifax.

“Larger provinces are traditional destinations for immigrants and have established communities with multiple religious and ethnic institutions, which help immigrants with aspects of settlement, but [these resources] are scarce in Atlantic Canada,” he explained, while leading a workshop titled “Economic Integration of Immigrants in Atlantic Canada,” at the 18th National Metropolis Conference in Toronto earlier this month.

The five steps of economic integration are home ownership, car ownership, citizenship, English proficiency and earning a better income said Akbari. These five things are indicators that newcomers to Canada are invested in their new destination and intend to stay.

[R]etention rates of immigrants in Atlantic Canada are low even in regions with large ethnic communities.

Akbari noted that the retention rates of immigrants in Atlantic Canada are low even in regions with large ethnic communities.

“If the networks are not instrumental then there is clearly a need for government policy and settlement agencies to play a larger role in immigrant settlement and integration,” he said.

Resources for Entrepreneurs

In New Brunswick, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) has partnered with the government to provide financial support for French-speaking immigrant entrepreneurs in an effort to retain the francophone community.

Attracting and retaining immigrants in rural areas can be difficult admitted Paul-Emile David, senior policy analyst for ACOA. David and ACOA work closely with businesses, governments and research institutions to find and develop entrepreneurial opportunities.

“We offer programs, initiatives and support so entrepreneurial activities can take place in these areas,” he said.

There are more than 40 Community Business Development Corporations (CBDCs) in Atlantic Canada, many of which are in rural areas.

Entrepreneurial initiatives need access to financing, resources and business skills development courses, David explained. One example of this is Island Advance in Prince Edward Island, which stimulates entrepreneurial projects and helps immigrants recognize good business opportunities.

For some immigrants and refugees learning English can be the most challenging part of integration.

More funding for integration supports

As of the end of February, 25,000 Syrian refugees had arrived in Canada, and by the end of the year that total is expected to reach 50,000, making localized support for integration a key issue across the country.

“We’re hoping that Ottawa will provide some strategic investments very soon in order to put the supports that are needed in place as soon as possible,” said Chris Friesen, director of settlement services with theImmigrant Services Society of B.C.

He said he hopes that the new federal funding plan for the provinces and territories, along with help from local agencies, will speed up the process of matching immigrants and refugees with language courses.

For some immigrants and refugees learning English can be the most challenging part of integration.

It can take up to 16 months for newcomers to Canada to be accepted into federally funded language courses. Some have reported feeling “trapped” because of their lack of English knowledge, meaning they can’t fully interact with society.

One of the reasons for the long wait-times to get into language programs is a lack of funding and resources. Wait-times also tend to be longer in bigger cities.

Challenges with government-assisted stream

Of the 25,000 Syrian refugees more than half of them are government-assisted, the others are sponsored privately or with some support from the government.

For refugees and immigrants alike, one of the most important steps to settling into Canada is finding a job and becoming economically independent.

[F]or some immigrants and refugees, finding a job isn’t just a matter of earning an income.

Approximately 14 per cent of government-assisted refugees find work within their first year of being in Canada compared to more than 50 per cent of those who are privately assisted.

“One of the unique challenges for government-assisted refugees is that they’re funded by the federal government for one year,” explained Nabiha Atallah, communications and outreach manager at the settlement agency ISANS (Immigration Services Association of Nova Scotia). “After that they need to support themselves or go on social assistance, but they want to work. They really want to work.”

Atallah spoke during the workshop about strategies for economic integration for immigrants.

She explained that for some immigrants and refugees, finding a job isn’t just a matter of earning an income, but helps with overcoming the depression, frustration and feelings of loss of self or status that can accompany relocating.

Even highly skilled immigrants with work experience, education and English proficiency are experiencing difficulty finding jobs, Atallah said.

ISANS works with several companies to understand their employer needs and to develop training curricula so that immigrants and refugees know what it takes to work at a particular business or organization.

Matching clients’ interests, skills and abilities with the right employers and planning with end goals in mind are some of the keys to successful job searching, Atallah explained.

“We also do a lot of work with interview skills because a lot of that is culture-laden. In some countries they don’t have interviews at all and if they do, they don’t look like ours.”

Ethnic Parents Hold Unique Perspectives on J-School

Originally published on New Canadian Media.

 

International students and children of immigrants say pursuing post-secondary studies in journalism can motivate both encouragement and opposition from their parents.

Sharif Hasan’s parents didn’t argue with him about his program choice – although they did express concerns. Hasan immigrated to Canada from Bangladesh in 2013 to pursue a master’s degree in journalism at Carleton University in Ottawa.

According to Hasan, the life of a journalist in Bangladesh is “not ideal.”

“Most young journalists struggle for years to get employed at a good media house,” Hasan explains. “Many of them don’t get a permanent job at all.”

Money in journalism has become an issue internationally due to the increased number of freelancers, the shift to digital platforms and the shrinking of newsroom staff in order to save money.

Media outlets across North America have laid-off hundreds of workers in recent years. For example, Bell Media laid off 380 workers and Sports Illustrated magazine cut its entire photojournalism department in 2015.

Parents like programs that offer clear-cut paths to “solid careers”.

Journalism not always a ‘safe’ option

Parents like programs that offer clear-cut paths to “solid careers” says Maryam Shah, a reporter for theToronto Sun, who came to Canada from Pakistan to study journalism at the University of Toronto.

Shah wanted to be a reporter since she was 11 and says she “pushed back” when her parents insisted she study law or medicine.

“In Pakistan, that’s just what you do,” Shah shares. “Anyone who says they want to write or travel the world, they look at you like there’s something wrong with you.”

Shah adds that parents are becoming more understanding when it comes to their children’s career choices, but they still prefer ‘safe’ options like engineering or teaching.

Fewer opportunities for minority journalists

Journalism hasn’t proven to be a stable career for Hasan; he struggled to overcome the language barrier, as well as to find work in journalism, so he dropped out of the program.

Hasan’s situation is not all that unique for visible minority or ethnic journalists.

While there is a growing number of visible minorities graduating from Canadian journalism schools, they are not necessarily the ones getting the jobs.

While there is a growing number of visible minorities enrolling in, and graduating from, Canadian journalism schools, they are not necessarily the ones getting the jobs.

Research has found that some of the perceived reasons for the under representation of visible minorities in journalism include hiring biases, fear of harassment and networking barriers.

While Hasan says he never personally experienced those challenges, he admits they were things both he and his friends were concerned about.

“In fact, they have discouraged me to go for journalism because of these issues,” he remarks.

Ingrid Grange immigrated to Canada from Jamaica and encouraged her daughter, Ashleen, in her interest to become a journalist. Grange says she hopes that the barriers students face as ethnic minorities “will have the opposite effect” on them.

“I would hope that it would make people of different ethnicities want to be in the media more so they can show that we’re out there and we should be taken seriously,” she says.

Some visible minority journalists worry about their ethnicity being a defining factor of who they are and fear being perceived as a ‘diversity hire’ by their peers according to a MediaSmarts study.

“I think you have to turn that tokenism around and use it in your favour.”

According to Grange, Ahsleen, who is now in her fourth year of journalism studies at the University of Toronto, says she sometimes has difficulty being taken seriously as a journalist, both because she is a woman and because she is black.

“I think you have to turn that tokenism around and use it in your favour,” says Grange. “It’s hard to get in the door, so if that’s your way through the door don’t hold back. You can’t change things from the outside,” she adds.

Pursuing journalism despite risks, barriers

While there may be risks and barriers involved that keep first- and second-generation Canadians – often visible minorities – from careers in this field, discouraging them from pursuing journalism only perpetuates the problem.

According to Shah, journalists benefit from sharing a newsroom with people from diverse backgrounds. She says she has been able to explain and give context to certain topics which allowed her to “tone down the ignorance” amongst her peers.

Having different ethnicities and perspectives means that inevitably not everyone will agree all the time. Shah notes that sometimes she and her peers “fight” over story ideas, and that she considers this a positive.

“If we all had the same thought processes or the same experiences we wouldn’t put out a very interesting paper,” she says.

 

The Mohammed Fahmy experience

Written for the Toronto Observer and New Canadian Media

After being labeled a terrorist, spending 438 days in a maximum security prison and being pardoned for a bogus case, Mohamed Fahmy is ready to speak.

The Canadian-Egyptian author and award-winning journalist shared his story with Michelle Shephard of the Toronto Star as well as an auditorium full of people at the Toronto Reference Library earlier this week. Fahmy’s talk was held on the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists.

Fahmy was Egypt’s bureau chief for Al Jazeera when he and his team had reported that The Muslim Brotherhood had officially been labeled a terrorist group by the Egyptian government. Five days later, police and paparazzi stormed his office to arrest him for conspiring with The Muslim Brotherhood. Australian correspondent Peter Greste and Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed were also arrested with Fahmy; the men were charged with fabricating news stories and supporting The Muslim Brotherhood. Fahmy thought it was a joke until he noticed that he was being held with members of ISIS and leaders of Al-Qaeda. He realized he was in serious trouble.

“Before we were even tried, we were branded as terrorists,” Fahmy explained.

The situation was “surreal”, “tough” and a test of his limits according to Fahmy. He spent one month in solitary as well as picking up a permanent disability in his shoulder but Despite spending one month in solitary, as well as picking up a permanent disability in his shoulder, Fahmy remained positive. Fahmy The journalist said that regular exercise and knowing that people were fighting for his cause uplifted him. The support Fahmy received from his wife Marwa, his lawyer Amal Clooney, from NGOs and from social media helped him see it this situation wasn’t just about him anymore. He decided to start the Fahmy Foundation, whose goal is to provide financial assistance and advocacy for unjustly imprisoned journalists. Fahmy said he feels like a changed man because of his experiences.

“I feel like I’m a stronger person after prison,” he added.

Despite the seriousness of the conversation, Fahmy was light-hearted as he recalled the ordeal, making jokes with Shephard, the host, throughout the night. The two joked that in a perverse way Fahmy being sent to prison gave him access to exclusive information. To keep themselves busy and to make the most of their situation Fahmy, Geste and Mohamed started a “radio” show where they would interview fellow prisoners through a slit in the cell door.

“You have the former head of Parliament on your left, former prime minister on your right, the head of The Muslim Brotherhood is in front of you,” he laughed. “So there was a lot of exclusive material gathered.”

However, the warden eventually stepped in and forced Fahmy and his team off the air.

According to Fahmy, “the war on terror” has been used as an excuse by governments worldwide to clamp down on civil liberties and justify murder.

“We are witnessing the worst phase of suppression of the press and civil liberties in our generation,” he proclaimed.

For example, Fahmy met young men with strong ideologies who got involved with organizations but should not be considered terrorists in his opinion. Fahmy also noticed how the rhetoric of extremists got more radical as they got older, which he found worrying.

“These newly passed Draconian laws in Canada and abroad could lead to my story to being repeated,” he added.

Fahmy referred specifically to controversial Bill’s c-51 and c-24, which were introduced earlier this year, as laws that are “problematic.” People can be loyal to two countries and stripping someone’s citizenship or asking them to denounce one of theirs is like “ripping the heart” out of someone says Fahmy.

“There is an unprecedented terrorist wave happening but there has to be a balance between security and civil liberties in order to have true democracy,” he said.

Fahmy danced with joy when he heard he’d been pardoned and he was “ecstatic” when he landed in Canada on Thanksgiving Day.

“Sometimes you forget what freedom is really about. To walk around and not have to worry or be judged,” Fahmy commented.

Fahmy hopes that everyone can learn from his case, particularly governments across the world. Fahmy has already met with Prime Minister Trudeau to discuss the details of his Foundation and possible outreach programs. The journalist said these talks are still in their infancy.

Fahmy said he plans to return to journalism eventually but would first like to teach it. Fahmy is currently teaching courses at The University of British Columbia as well as working on his book. There is no timeline for when the book will be expected but Fahmy revealed his lawyer, Amal Clooney, will be writing the forward. During the question period Fahmy also mentioned that Amal’s famous husband, George, was very interested and involved in the case. Fahmy joked that if a screenplay adaptation of the book he would like George to play him if he can’t do it himself.

‘I’ve Never Encountered a Non-white Journalism Professor’

Originally published on New Canadian Media.

 

Journalism and the media play a major role in forming a national identity and informing the public about what’s important.

That is why Rohit Joseph, who is currently in the Masters of Journalism program at The University of British Columbia (UBC), says that people of diverse backgrounds play an important role in the media.

Joseph and his family moved to Vancouver, British Columbia from New Delhi, India when he was nine years old. The 23 year old has spent most of his life in Canada and identifies as Canadian.

“If the news media and political establishments want to improve their relationship with the diverse ethnic communities that make up this nation, we need qualified journalists from these communities to represent them,” he says.

It starts in j-school

Joseph’s UBC classmate, Jessica Quin (a pseudonym), says that journalism as a whole doesn’t accurately represent Canada’s diversity and that there’s more work to be done – and it starts in the classroom.

“Ethnic diversity in journalism schools is not only important, it is absolutely necessary in an ever-changing Canadian multicultural landscape,” says the 24 year old.

Journalism programs, like all other post-secondary programs, have a responsibility to produce graduates of all ethnicities. Failure to do so is a “disservice to the country” according to Carleton University journalism student Jolson Lim.

“Journalists of colour have to work harder to land a job in the industry.”

In the United States, a survey from the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication found that approximately one out of every four students majoring in journalism or communications is a visible minority.

In Canada, according to Humber College journalism program coordinator Dan Rowe, it seems that while there is a considerable number of visible minorities graduating from j-school, they aren’t the ones being hired.

Quin says hiring challenges are something she hears of often from friends already working in the industry.

“In truth, you will be more easily hired if you are white, because you fit the standard status quo and implicitly fit into the newsroom culture,” she says. “Journalists of colour have to work harder to land a job in the industry.”

‘White values’ remain dominant 

Guyanese-born Varsha Ramdihol remembers watching as her parents struggled to find employment due to hiring biases when her family first immigrated to Toronto.

Ramdihol, 18, studies journalism at the University of Toronto Scarborough’s campus and has a “very diverse” class, which she thinks is important. Still, she admits to one major concern: her ability to find a job when she graduates based on what she looks like or cultural stereotypes.

Ramdihol says that, if hired, she and other visible minorities can bring added value to the news through “background information, context and history” when it comes to certain events.

Jeffrey Dvorkin, 69, is the director of U of T’s Journalism program and teaches a class at the Scarborough campus. Like Ramdihol, Dvorkin says his class is very diverse, which, he adds, is a good thing. But the former National Public Radio ombudsman does have some concerns.

“[J]ournalism refuses to shake its own whiteness.”

“I worry that as journalism schools graduate journalists of colour, that they may reflect a class perspective (educated, middle class) rather than a purely ethnic one,” the professor explains.

Dvorkin admits that while reflecting a class bias can be a negative thing, it isn’t always. “It’s just part of the business,” he says.

Miglena Todorova of U of T’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) agrees with Dvorkin’s claim. Todorova, an assistant professor in social justice, says that the ethnic composition of a classroom doesn’t matter if biases exists.

Todorova explains that the class bias within journalism is entrenched in the profession.

“Journalism therefore continues to be dominated by a particular set of needs and knowledge and those are the values of white people,” Todorova adds.

“You have to ask yourself ‘who is teaching these programs?’”

Todorova argues that many of the people in decision-making positions working within mass media are white and as a result “journalism refuses to shake its own whiteness.”

“You have to ask yourself ‘who is teaching these programs?’” Todorova adds.

Changing academia

“I have never encountered a non-white professor in journalism,” says 20-year-old Hannah Wondmeneh, a  fourth year journalism student at Carleton University who self-identifies as Ethiopian-Canadian.

Wondmeneh’s observation is not uncommon it seems.

Of all the students New Canadian Media spoke with in writing this article, the only one who said he saw his ethnicity represented amongst the faculty was a Caucasian male from Alberta.

Dvorkin thinks that balancing conflicting forces is the key to solving issues of diversity in journalism. Dvorkin admits that academia can be rigid when it comes to accepting new ideas, but he’s confident there is a way to “make them compatible.”

But for Wondmeneh, what’s troubling is that she feels as if nothing is being done about it.

“We don’t talk about,” she says. “It’s as if it’s a non-issue, not anything that would need to be addressed, and I find that frustrating.”