The unbearable whiteness of Canadian mainstream media is at the centre of its increasing irrelevance.
The last two weeks have been a game changer in when it comes to discussions around race, racism, freedom of speech, and racial inclusion in Canadian media. Due to mainly white men in media behaving badly, we have been forced to at least glance at the elephant in the room—the continuing unbearable whiteness and maleness of Canadian media.
Last week, Hal Niedzviecki, editor of The Writers’ of Union of Canada’s magazine, resigned from his position after saying in a column that he doesn’t believe in cultural appropriation and encouraged white writers to appropriate other cultures. “[S]et your sights on the big goal: Win the Appropriation Prize,” he wrote.
In response, a number of prominent white Canadian journalists—including now-former editor-in-chief of the Walrus, Jon Kay (more on that later); managing editor of The National at CBC, Steve Ladurantaye; and editor-in-chief of Maclean’s, Alison Uncles—took it upon themselves to hold a fake Twitter fundraiser to pool money together for the mock “Appropriation Prize.” Kay later resigned from his position at the Walrus after public condemnation of his participation in the Appropriation Prize fundraiser, while many other participants quickly deleted tweets and issued weak apologies.
But it was Desmond Cole and the Toronto Star who kickstarted the current conversation about media diversity.
After Cole disrupted a recent Toronto Police Services Board meeting by refusing to leave the podium after his deputation, he was then called into the office of Andrew Phillips, the Star’s editorial page editor. Phillips then “reminded” Cole of the Star’s policy regarding activist-journalists: “It is not appropriate for Star journalists to play the roles of both actor and critic.” Cole chose to step down from his position as a biweekly Star columnist, which he announced in a post on his personal blog.
In an era where newspapers are shedding advertising dollars like a snake sheds its skin, an era where trust in media is going the way of the dodo, media elites have chosen to continue publishing homogenous news as the proverbial ship goes down. Instead of diversifying their newsrooms and adhering to the journalistic integrity that they let fall to the wayside, they are instead lashing out at those who oppose their harmful, often bigoted views and defending their right to harm by citing freedom of speech.
But this conversation isn’t about freedom of speech in the way that white men like Ladurantaye, Kay, or Andrew Coyne present it. This is about the ways in which white men turn newsrooms into echo chambers full of more white men, thus silencing the voices of those who weren’t born in that particular privileged demographic. Racialized voices just aren’t being heard. They aren’t making decisions nor are they carrying them out. Canadian news continues to be the realm of white men. And the statistics are there to prove it.
In 2014, J-Source, a news website geared toward journalism professionals, surveyed 76 English-language daily newspapers in Canada and found that 73 per cent of columnists were men. A 2010 study conducted by Ryerson University found that only 4.8 per cent, or 14 of the 289 leaders in Canadian media examined, were racialized.
Media is an integral part of a democratic society. It serves as a critical communication tool to inform and educate residents while also serving as government watchdog. But when only certain people are allowed to have their voices amplified, when only one side of the story is allowed to be told, that media functions in an authoritarian way.
Black women are consistently thought leaders whose uncited ideas regularly appear in mainstream media, but its increasingly apparent that our bylines don’t.