The Delicate Acts of "Colour Balancing": Multiculturalism and Canadian Television Broadcasting Policies and Practices

Lorna Roth (Concordia University)

Abstract: As a symbolic demonstration of the Government of Canada's attitude toward minorities' communication rights, the Multiculturalism Act (1988) and the Broadcasting Policy Reflecting Canada's Linguistic and Cultural Diversity (1985) are paradigms of state intervention which encourage the public production, programming, and protection of certain forms of ethnicity. After critically outlining the content and historical struggle around these two policies, this paper focuses on how multiculturalism and ethnic broadcasting privilege ethnocultural and racial "diversity" as an integral aspect of Canadian society. "Colour-balanced" media requires the actual implementation, supervision, and monitoring by the CRTC of section 3(1)(d)(iii) of the Canadian Broadcasting Act by people whose minds are open to the recognition, in practice, of equality rights for minority communicators in Canada.

Résumé: La Loi sur le multiculturalisme canadien (1988) et La Politique sur la radiodiffusion reflétant la diversité linguistique et culturelle du Canada (1985) démontrent de manière symbolique le point de vue du gouvernement canadien sur les droits de communication des minorités. Ce sont des paradigmes d'intervention de l'état qui encouragent la production, la programmation et la protection publiques de certaines formes d'ethnicité. Cet article présente d'abord de manière critique le contenu de ces deux politiques et la lutte historique sous-tendant celles-ci. L'article se penche ensuite sur la manière dont le multiculturalisme et la radiodiffusion ethnique mettent en valeur la "diversité" ethnoculturelle et raciale comme aspect intégral de la société canadienne. Le CRTC met à exécution la section 3(1)(d)(iii) de la Loi sur la radiodiffusion canadienne et surveille son application pour s'assurer que les médias sont représentatifs des diverses ethnies du Canada. Les administrateurs du CRTC ont les esprits ouverts et reconnaissent, en pratique, les droits à l'égalité des communicateurs minoritaires au Canada.

In these final days of the twentieth century, television, more than any other medium, holds up the mirror in which Canadian society can see itself reflected. The television pictures are vital: they are in color.

Salome Bey, 1982


An interesting starting point for studying ways in which "ethnic1 and racial differences" have been used to politically organize interpersonal, socio-cultural, and media conflicts and challenges into frameworks, discourses, and practices within Canadian society is through the prism of its "Multiculturalism" policies, especially that of ethnic broadcasting.2

The notion of "multiculturalism," which began circulating in Canada in 1971, is commonly used in three senses: as a government policy, as a political ideology of cultural pluralism underpinning the federal policy, and in reference to the "social reality" of an ethnically diverse society (Kallen 1982, 51). Implicit in the idea of multiculturalism is the assumption that members of different ethnic and racial groups should (ideally) be able to communicate effectively with each other within a context of legal, social, and political equality. The stated objectives of multiculturalist policies include improved racial tolerance and the public acknowledgment of a culturally diverse and ideally pluralistic society. To achieve these goals, a broadcasting system in which there is "fair" representation of the population in terms of ethnicity, both within media institutional administrations and as the subjects of normalized media texts, is publicly espoused by government policymakers and ethnic lobbyists.

In general, ethnocultural differences are associated with three broad sets of claims put forth by Canadian constituencies: the rights of Aboriginal or pre-Canadian societies, those Native peoples whose territorial residence on this continent preceded that of the Europeans; the Canadians/Canadien(ne)s who claim their citizenship rights as national communities; and the rights of immigrant populations (allophones in Québec) who search for ways in which to "preserve some of their non-Canadian ways, as befits the Canadian commitment to a cultural mosaic" (DiNorcia 1984, 148-49). These claims have recently been inserted into the Canadian broadcasting system through the establishment of separate policies for ethnic (1985) and Aboriginal broadcasting undertakings (1983), each of which acknowledges the inherent distinctions between the two groups and the dominant, "founding peoples" of the Canadian state.3 The most recent Broadcasting Act (June 4, 1991) (section 3[1][d][iii]) enshrines multicultural/multiracial and Aboriginal broadcasting. Specifically, it states that the Canadian broadcasting system should:

(iii) through its programming and the employment opportunities arising out of its operations, serve the needs and interests, and reflect the circumstances and aspirations of Canadian men, women and children, including equal rights, the linguistic duality and multicultural and multiracial nature of Canadian society and the special place of aboriginal peoples within that society...

The Broadcasting Act is preceded and supported by other legislative instruments with similar intentions. These include: the multiculturalism policy of 1971, the Canadian Multiculturalism Act (1988), the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982), other supporting legislation (the Official Languages Act, the Citizenship Act, and the Canadian Human Rights Act), and the Ethnic Broadcasting Policy (1985), all of which have provided guidelines for the management of Canadian cultural and racial pluralism. These legislative and policy frameworks circumscribe particular representations of "otherness" and to a great extent influence the Canadian publics' discourses, perceptions, and political positions concerning cultural and racial diversity.

In this paper, I direct my attention to multiculturalism and ethnic broadcasting policies which serve to focalize public questions and contextualize media practices of cultural and racial minorities in Canada. The two policies are examined here in relation to one another because both are linked by common assumptions -- that ethnocultural and racial origin is visible and /or audible, that selected traditions can be preserved and expressed through dedicated projects and programming, and that diversity can be explained to others in order to develop the kind of tolerance that a democratic pluralist population "should" demonstrate.

To grasp the essence of the framework within which ethnic broadcasting has evolved, knowledge about the historical development of multiculturalism policies, out of which it emerged as a trajectory, is helpful.

History and perceptions of Canadian multiculturalism

Former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau's impetus to promote and announce a policy of "multiculturalism within a bilingual framework" (October 8, 1971) was the outcome of a series of highly charged debates and a negative response on the part of immigrant ethnic minorities surrounding the submission of the reports of a Royal Commission study on Bilingualism and Biculturalism during the 1960s (which hereafter will be referred to as the "B and B" Commission). Organized because of the growing dissatisfaction and friction between the English and the French, the B and B Commission had been mandated in 1963 by the Pearson government to examine the state of bilingualism and biculturalism in Canada and to recommend "the steps to be taken to develop an equal partnership between the two founding `races,' taking into account the contribution made by other ethnic groups to the cultural enrichment of Canada and the measures that should be taken to safeguard that contribution" (Multiculturalism Canada 1984, 8; emphasis added).

Initial deliberations about multiculturalism polarized the Canadian public. Reacting to the possibility of being relegated third-class citizens, spokespersons for the ethnocultural and racial communities, led by the Ukrainians of Alberta, demanded equal status to that of the "founding fathers" (Kallen 1982, 53). In their preliminary report (1965), the B and B commissioners outlined some of the reasons for the ethnic public's support of multiculturalism. Ethnic groups, the report stated, talked of their fears of being left out of the French and English dialogue, affirmed their sense of the historical importance of the "third" force in the development of Canadian society, and advocated a pluralistic, "mosaic" approach to the construction of a multicultural society. Speaking of "unity in diversity," they argued for "the harmonious co-operation of all ethnic groups in the Canadian country as a whole" (B and B 1965, 52). Few ethnic groups objected to multiculturalism as an idea. Those who did expressed concern about "balkanization" and repeatedly argued for the idea of "One Canada" (ibid., 52-53).

Pierre Elliott Trudeau supported multiculturalism, but was a strong believer in bilingualism, and not multilingualism, as an official policy. He argued that with a multicultural policy within a bilingual framework, Canada could become "a special place, and a stronger place as well....We become less like others; we become less susceptible to cultural, social, or political envelopment by others" (Porter 1987, 119).

Robert Bourassa, Québec's premier at the time, opposed multiculturalism protesting that it would be divisive, "that the demands of certain ethnic groups" would "make the fundamental duality of the country more difficult." Specifically, he stated:

Je veux souligner que pour la communauté canadienne-francaise, cette nouvelle politique multiculturelle représente un immense pas en arrière dont, je crois, les Canadiens francais n'ont pas encore pris conscience [I want to underline that for the French-Canadian community, the new multiculturalism policy represents an immense step backward which, I believe, has not yet been grasped by the French-Canadians]. (Porter 1987, 155; author's translation)

To this comment, Trudeau responded with the opposite view "that strong ethnic loyalties would be integrative" and that each "of the many fibres would contribute its own qualities" to strengthen Canada's national identity (ibid., 118-19).

From the perspectives of representative French and English citizens, many worried that "multiculturalism in some provinces would be more likely to promote a bilingualism in the form of Anglo-Ukrainian or Franco-Italian rather than English-French bilingualism, which had basic sociological and historical links and which, it was believed, was so important for the future of Canada as a viable society" (Porter 1987, 118). Concern was raised that some ethnic organizations and cultural communities would be more interested in promoting their own cultures than in sharing their cultures with other Canadians. "Because of that, the program could become a multi-unicultural one" (ibid., 120).

John Porter, author of The Vertical Mosaic (1965), publicly opposed multiculturalism on the grounds that it would:

foster ethnic separation, enclavement and retention of traditional values. Ethnic particularism, in turn, perpetuates the vertical (ethnic) mosaic by creating barriers to upward mobility in post-industrial society which is predicated on universalistic norms. In this view, government encouragement of ethnic diversity legitimates the proliferation of particularistic value differences among Canadians and thus impedes the development of national unity. (Kallen 1982, 54)

In two later essays, John Porter (1987) strengthened his critique of multiculturalism and challenged the validity of the census data on Canadian ethnicity as a basis for the policies.4

In summary, its opponents in the 1960s and 1970s claimed that multiculturalist policies endorsed and reinforced the "age-old Colonial technique of divide and rule utilized by majority ethnic elites to guarantee and perpetuate their ascendancy" (Porter 1987, 54). Multiculturalism as a policy, it was stated, symbolized the contradictions between rhetoric and the practical, daily treatment of ethnocultural and racial minorities. It was frequently purported to be a policy of containment and appeasement of the conflicting demands made by the non-English and the Québécois. As such, it was feared it would become a technique of domination, legitimating the entrenched powers of the ruling Anglo elite when its superordinate, national position was threatened by both Québec's claim to political power and the ethnic communities' growing numerical, economic and cultural strength (Kallen 1982, 54-55).

Despite some public reticence, the federal government's social project continued and Book 4 of the B and B Report, The Cultural Contribution of the Other Ethnic Groups, was published in 1969, listing 16 recommendations for the implementation of an official government policy of multilingualism and multiculturalism as a means of integrating immigrant ethnic collectivities (Kallen 1982). Arguing from a pluralistic perspective, the commission members acknowledged that, although they had taken a specific position, there were "many ways to preserve and reinforce the other cultures in Canada" (Multiculturalism Canada 1984, 8).

In responding to the Commission's report, Trudeau officially declared a Canadian multiculturalism policy in 1971, but made it clear in his speech that in his and the government's view language and culture were to be regarded as divisible. Instead of the proposed multicultural and multilingual policy as outlined in Book 4 of the B and B Commission report, Trudeau promoted a policy of multiculturalism within a bilingual framework. The prime minister then proceeded to lobby for support from the House of Commons for the policy recommendations and obtained it. Although the new "Multiculturalism Policy within a bilingual framework" was not to be enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms until 1982 and the Multiculturalism Act in 1988, Canada became the first and only state in the world to have an explicit and formal policy framework guiding the national configuration of cultural and racial diversity. Trudeau considered this new policy "the most suitable means of assuring the cultural freedom of Canadians" (Porter 1987, 118).

The 1971 policy stated that:

  • Resources permitting, it would seek to assist all Canadian cultural groups that had demonstrated a desire and effort to continue to develop, a capacity to grow and contribute to Canada, and a clear need for assistance;
  • It would assist members of all cultural groups to overcome cultural barriers to full participation in Canadian society;
  • It would promote creative encounters and interchange among all Canadian cultural groups in the interest of national unity; and
  • It would continue to assist immigrants to acquire at least one of Canada's official languages in order to become full participants in Canadian society. (Multiculturalism Canada 1984, 8)

In 1972, the first-ever Minister of State for Multiculturalism was appointed with the mandate of promoting multiculturalism through active communications with all sectors of the government and the public (Hudson 1987, 65). That same year, a Multiculturalism Directorate was named within the Department of the Secretary of State. Like the minister, the directorate was to assist in the "full realization of the multicultural nature of Canadian society through programs that promote the preservation and sharing of cultural heritages, and which facilitate mutual appreciation and understanding among all Canadians" (Hudson 1987, 65). A year later, the Canadian Consultative Council on Multiculturalism was established as an advisory body to the minister.

What is interesting about Trudeau's 1971 policy framework is that, unlike much of the sociological literature on ethnicity in that period which stresses its involuntary status (Anderson and Frideres 1981), this statement considers the cultural freedom of the Canadian citizen to publicly display his/her ethnicity to be something of a voluntary nature.

The prime minister emphasized the fact that under the newly introduced policy the preservation of ethnic identity is a voluntary matter, both for the individual and for the group. The funding of multicultural programs would therefore be directed only towards those ethnic groups whose members expressed a desire to maintain their ethnocultural heritage and who could demonstrate a need for support in their efforts to maintain their ethnic distinctiveness. Similarly, Trudeau recognized the right of each individual to be free to choose whether or not to maintain his or her distinctive ethnic identity (Kallen 1982, 53).

Thus, Trudeau emphasized the individual, rather than the collective, right to preserve one's ethnocultural identity as a voluntary outcome of deliberate choice. This notion of individual ethnic expressivity in the 1971 policy has come under sharp criticism by Canadian scholars, especially in relation to the promotion of ethno-exotica (Peter 1979; Bullivant 1981). Bullivant criticizes the expressive function of ethnicity as deflecting attention away from the instrumental side of political and economic survival through structural assimilation (Kallen 1982). Peter argues that it places ethnic groups in a position of contributing quaint customs and primordial identities to the Canadian mosaic, while simultaneously denying them access to political and economic opportunities (ibid.).5

Although the tendency to exoticize ethnicity still exists in such activities as ethnic festivals, dances, and other ethno-promotional activities, the more critical concerns such as equity and institutional bias have been addressed in the 1988 Canadian Multiculturalism Act, which assures protections against racial discrimination and, in conjunction with other legislation, lays the foundation for improved access to political and economic opportunities.

Relevant Multiculturalism legislation

Ethnic constituency group pressure on the federal government has been mobilized since the 1960s with the purpose of establishing "equal rights" policies and legislation in support of the changed demographic profile of Canadian society. With one in three Canadians being of non-British, non-French, or non-Aboriginal descent by the early 1980s, the federal government eventually acted by enshrining guarantees of cultural and racial pluralism in legislation through the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, sections 15 and 27, and the Multiculturalism Act (1988).

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982), section 15, specifies equality rights for all citizens before and under the law, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age, or mental or physical disability. Section 27 stipulates that the Charter itself is to "be interpreted in a manner consistent with the preservation and enhancement of the multicultural heritage of Canadians."

Linked with three other relevant pieces of legislation, the Official Languages Act, the Citizenship Act, and the Canadian Human Rights Act, as well as two international agreements, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Canadian Multiculturalism Act essentially covers two broad areas. From a political and legal perspective, the most important guarantees it establishes are: (a) the "full and equitable participation of individuals and communities of all origins in the continuing evolution and shaping of all aspects of Canadian society" and assistance to eliminate "any barrier to such participation" (Multiculturalism Act [1988], s. 3.1.c.); (b) the assurance of "equal treatment and equal protection under the law, while respecting and valuing their diversity" (s. 3.1.e.); and (c) "equal opportunity to obtain employment and advancement" in all federal institutions for "Canadians of all origins" (s. 3.2.a.).

From a cultural and racial perspective, it recognizes and promotes (a) "the understanding that multiculturalism reflects the cultural and racial diversity of Canadian society and acknowledges the freedom of all members of Canadian society to preserve, enhance and share their cultural heritage" (s. 3.1.a.); (b) the understanding that multiculturalism is a fundamental characteristic of the Canadian heritage and identity and that it provides an invaluable resource in the shaping of Canada's future (s. 3.1.b.); (c) the existence and enhancement of the diversity of Canadian cultural and racial communities "and their historic contribution to Canadian society" (s. 3.1.d.); (d) "the understanding and creativity that arise from the interaction between individuals and communities of different origins" (s. 3.1.g.); (e) "the appreciation of the diverse cultures of Canadian society and...the reflection and the evolving expressions of those cultures" (s. 3.1.h.); and finally (f) the preservation and enhancement of "the use of languages other than English and French, while strengthening the status and use of the official languages of Canada" (s. 3.1.i.).

The Multiculturalism Act has wide implications for employment equity programs (s. 3.2), which call for structural and institutional assimilation of ethnocultural, Aboriginal, and visible minorities across and within all federal agencies, crown corporations, and federally contracted institutions and businesses.

On the positive side, the 1988 act clearly goes further than the 1971 policy in not only recognizing the demographic realities of Canada or in symbolically promoting multiculturalism as a national state objective, but also in facilitating institutional changes by providing material benefits in the form of equality-rights legislation. Furthermore, the 1988 legislation complements the Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the grounds of race in such areas as accommodation and employment. But neither these two acts nor the Broadcasting Act (1991) directly addresses the underlying attitudinal basis, that is, racism, that causes structural inequalities. The promotion of good race relations through positive rhetoric is commendable, but in no way does it eradicate cultural and racial discrimination merely because it reconceptualizes it (Kobayashi 1993, 222).

Despite these problematic considerations, the placement of ethnicity in state policies which support the broadcasting sector is a significant intervention in working toward the elevation of public consciousness around issues of cultural/racial pluralism. What follows are several key issues in the development of ethnic broadcasting in Canada.

Ethnic broadcasting policy framework

Concurrent with pressures for the Multiculturalism Act were activities by lobby groups demanding ethnic broadcasting services as part of the overall broadcasting system in Canada. For the last four decades, Canada's multicultural populations have strategically argued to this end before the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), and the Department(s) of Communications (federal and provincial) while simultaneously promoting their perspectives and ideas within the context of public media forums and conferences. In their struggle to legislatively enshrine the right to receive and transmit an ethnically balanced depiction of Canadian society within all public and private broadcasting channels, ethnic minority groups have identified common objectives for the production of local, regional, and sometimes traditionally oriented cultural programming. They have demanded cultural and artistic justice, the redistribution of broadcasting powers and transmitter access, and have called for cognitive equity in all forms of visible and audible portrayals of themselves, Canada's "Others."

Canadian multicultural and multiracial communities have argued for improved minority representation on mainstream and specialized, national and regional broadcasting services at all levels -- technical, administrative, cultural, and in policymaking processes. Some have proposed that ethnicity should not be defined as broadcasting content at all, but rather that all persons should be considered for a wider variety of mainstream broadcasting roles without regard for skin colour, ethnic origin, or audible minority status (CMC 1988, 53-58). Affirmative action and employment equity programs were enthusiastically advocated.

At the ethnic broadcasting hearings in 1984, the CRTC heard representations from intervenors which emphasized that fair, balanced, and non-stereotyped ethnic programming should: "serve as a bridge to enable groups to overcome cultural barriers; increase access by ethnic groups to conventional radio and television and to cable services; foster cultural appreciation and promote encounters among all Canadian cultural groups; and assist immigrants to acquire at least one of Canada's official languages" (CRTC 1985, 6-7). Stated objectives for ethnic programming have reflected those of the Multiculturalism Act.

At the time of its passing in 1985, the Broadcasting Policy Reflecting Canada's Linguistic and Cultural Diversity was a uniquely Canadian initiative -- the first of its kind to exist within the international community. Although the policy has facilitated the development of many local and regional undertakings in Canada, as yet, there is no fully national service.

The struggle for a national multicultural network is framed by the distinction between cross-cultural and ethnic broadcasting. In the words of Dan Ianuzzi, the main proponent of "multicultural" broadcasting, the latter would give access to all Canadians "allowing all groups to speak to each other, not just to themselves" (Canadian Multilingual Press Federation 1993, 4). While multicultural broadcasting aims at bridging cultures, ethnic broadcasting (favoured in CRTC decisions) "is exclusive to specific language groups...and fosters cultural specificity" (ibid.). To establish this service on a national basis would allow for the expression of a " `cosmopolitanism'...shared by Canadians from diverse heritages and across cultures" (ibid.). The CRTC has refused the licensing of a national system to date on the grounds that it would intrude into the existing local and regional markets.

The actual substance of the Broadcasting Policy Reflecting Canada's Linguistic and Cultural Diversity is intricate. It clearly defines ethnic programs and stations, dividing them into five broad categories:

Type A -- a program in a language other than English, French, or native Canadian;
Type B -- a program in English or French that is specifically directed to culturally or racially distinct groups whose first or common language is English or French;
Type C -- a program in English or in French that is specifically directed to any ethnic group other than in type B;
Type D -- a program of a bilingual mix (English or French plus type A) that is specifically directed to any ethnic group (such as French and Arabic, English and Italian, English and Punjabi);
Type E -- a program in French or in English that is directed to any ethnic group or to a mainstream audience and that depicts Canada's cultural diversity through services that are multicultural, educational, informational, cross-cultural or intercultural in nature. (This will allow for programming in English or French that will facilitate the integration of ethnic groups into the mainstream and will reflect culturally or racially distinct groups to the population at large.) (CRTC 1985, 11-12)

An ethnic television or radio station is one:

required to devote not less than 60% of its weekly programming time between 0600 and 2400 hours to ethnic programs of TYPES A, B, C, D or any combination thereof....The remaining 40% of the broadcast week between 0600 and 2400 hours may be devoted to ethnic programs of TYPES A, B, C, D, E or any combination thereof, or to any other type of conventional programming. (CRTC 1985, 13)

As seen from these definitions, culture and heritage language are structured into the policy in terms of minimum and maximum percentages which, for administrative purposes, differentiates an ethnic from a conventional broadcasting undertaking by its supposed measurability. This might assist bureaucrats in justifying multiculturalist policies as an integral part of the Canadian broadcasting infrastructure. However, as already noted, numerical representation of minorities in the media does not in itself necessarily work at deep cognitive levels to change our attitudes and behaviours in relation to race and ethnicity in the Canadian population. Furthermore, given the perceived desire by minorities to market multiculturalism as a core feature of Canadian society, some of the outstanding programming challenges are still difficult to surmount given existing economic constraints in broadcasting.

Multiculturalism and broadcasting challenges

Although existing specialized ethnic services are far more sophisticated than they were initially,6 there remain at least two unresolved policy implementation problems which still have to be addressed. First, there are insufficient amounts of original high-quality ethnic-language programming produced in Canada because there is very little funding available for such endeavours. In response to these economic constraints, the practice of brokerage has sprung up. This refers to the purchase of blocks of radio and television time by independent ethnic producers who "determine the program content and commercial messages and derive revenues from the advertising contained therein" (CRTC 1985, 30-31). Brokerage is a problem for two reasons. According to CRTC regulations, all licensees are responsible for the content that is broadcast under their auspices. Should the licensee not be able to understand third-language programming, there is a question as to who will be responsible for potentially libelous statements. The commission's response to this question is that a self-regulated industry code for programming brokerage be established. The other reason that brokerage structures are problematic pertains to the question of Canadian content quotas. Can international programming, for example, be considered Canadian if shown on an ethnic station? If it can, then is this not an expanded and somewhat distorted notion of what Canadian content is? For example, what is Canadian about Italian-language programming produced in Italy and imported for broadcasting purposes? This is still a problematic issue for ethnic broadcasters and for the CRTC which has permitted the broadcasting of international programming (as a stopgap measure) until such time as a viable ethnic program production industry takes hold in Canada.

The second issue about the organization of ethnic broadcasting resulting from the policy is that due to the scarcity of available frequencies in ethnic market areas until the mid-1990s, the CRTC had chosen not to license single-language undertakings. This limited opportunity to address a linguistically homogeneous audience was theoretically and economically understandable to the broadcasters, but has been problematic in practical application because it required that each potential licensee negotiate a fair and balanced ethnic representation of languages (and cultures) within each station. The necessary bargaining process involved in this organizational juggling act often resulted in political conflicts and tense social relations. Ironically, the spin-off consequence of this forced sharing of air time may have been improved cross-cultural relations, as the various ethnic communities were compelled to make compromises. In the future, as digital compression technology enables the multiplication of channels and, therefore, bypasses the argument about the scarcity of frequencies, this, and possibly other, CRTC policy restrictions will no longer be justifiable.

The historical compulsory multilingual factor made the ethnic broadcasting policy implementation processes complex and difficult to manage. The challenge of constructing and promoting the idea of multiculturalism, plus an ethnically balanced media system characterized by "unity in diversity," in a society dominated by French and English institutions was somewhat overwhelming. Much of the backroom social construction process remained invisible in order for multiculturalism to appear as a "fait accompli." However, access to and critical investigation of this "backstage" cultural organization process would enrich our understanding of social relations in Canada. Moreover, the collection of longitudinal data on how the ethnic broadcasting policy implementation process has historically played itself out may have useful applications in other domains relating to the construction of culturally and racially diverse activities and services in Canada and elsewhere.

There are other questionable assumptions about the ways in which ethnicity is treated in the Broadcasting Act and relevant ethnic broadcasting policy principles. Here are two problematic notions. First, there is the essentialist identity often associated with ethnicity these days. By this, I mean that there is an essentialist assumption that working at a broadcasting venue and being ethnic often means that one can only do "ethnic" programming or that "being there" is enough. There is plentiful evidence of the difficulty that "ethnic" employees have experienced in trying to break out of the "ethnic beat." Second is the sense implicit in the policies that the more accurate the portrayal and the wider the exposure of ethnicity on broadcasting channels, the more likely ethnic information will contribute to the breakdown of cross-cultural stereotypes. To some extent, this might be so. However, there is no guarantee that this kind of hypodermic-needle exposure to ethnic cultural and production values will necessarily result in more effective intercultural communications. As a matter of fact, empirical media researchers in developing nations who have adopted the diffusionist notion of social change, such as this represents, have demonstrated to us that attitudes do not change, unless they are reinforced by influential persons in the immediate environments (Rogers 1976). Moreover, recent random campaigns directed at changing public attitudes toward racism through exposure to multicultural activities have had no more than moderate success.

The pervasiveness of racism in grosser or subtler forms in societies across the world suggests that such attitudes are not easily changed and that public spending on media campaigns to promote racial harmony probably has only a marginal impact at most (Brooks 1989, 294).

The limited work that has been done in this field indicates that deliberate anti-racist deconstruction work, in addition to non-racist reflections in public portrayals, seems to work more effectively than any other technique of improving race relations among peer groups (Cohen 1987). However, until power relations (political and economic) shift to balance inequities in all institutions, not just those which are governmentally associated, traditional ethnic hierarchies, both within and outside of the media, will likely change only incrementally.

Multiculturalism and ethnic broadcasting: Significance and problems

At least on a superficial level, multiculturalism policies and ethnic broadcasting are strategic tools for organizing cultural and racial pluralism in Canadian society. As a symbolic demonstration of the Government of Canada's policy toward minorities, multiculturalism is a paradigm of state intervention which encourages the public production, programming, and protection of certain forms of ethnicity.

Multicultural and ethnic broadcasting policies each represent political interventions into socio-cultural and market structures that have previously barred visible and audible minorities as well as white ethnic peoples from easy entry. The two policies enable specific "ethnicity" projects that the federal government considers worthy of funding or licensing. By culturally and economically regulating both the social and communications systems, the Canadian administrative apparatus has worked toward restructuring and strengthening employment equity and affirmative action programs for racial and ethnocultural minorities in Canada.7 This is definitely a positive step, and one which will potentially set new facilitating conditions for multicultural development in Canada in the future.

The federal government has, indeed, demonstrated its political will to approach matters of cultural and racial diversity with some fairness and with an awareness of the need to develop a form of tolerance that is visible/audible and that will set a public example. While not denying this, media promotional strategies for multiculturalism and the specific ways in which the federal government practices its policy through the dissemination of social project monies and broadcasting licenses have also resulted in narrowing the terms of the social and political debates about other possible relationships between bilingualism, biculturalism, and ethnic/racial diversity. It does this by restricting multiculturalism and ethnic broadcasting program structures to a range of very precise objectives and definitional criteria for ethnically suitable projects which have to be met in order for groups to qualify for continued funding and /or license renewals. Within these constraints, groups narrowly focus on competition for limited resources and become dependent on government programs and regulations to continue their own mandates. "Ethnic professionals," who function as mediators of the two sets of lived experiences -- those of the bureaucrats and those of the ethnocultural and visible minority populations -- soon emerge to assure that, at least bureaucratically, the organization of Canadian cultural and racial diversity meets the standards established by the federal civil service.

The policies of multiculturalism and ethnic broadcasting privilege ethnocultural and racial "diversity" as a key issue in the development of Canadian society. Both policies recognize the legitimacy of racial and ethnic "cultures of otherness" as categories organized by dominant society around discursive and empirical fields of social difference (Hall 1985). However, both operate within a socio-political context of cultural stratification because the policy principles, emergent institutional structures, and media practices assume anglophone and francophone cultures to be dominant reference points. As such, the two policies are stitched to a linguistic (bilingual) framework which does not recognize that anglophones and francophones have ethnicity, too, and originally came from homelands outside of Canada.

With reference to broadcasting, rather than integrating positive and negative portrayals of ethnocultural and racial communities and peoples in a broadcasting system that recognizes "white as a colour too," the ethnic undertaking is placed within a culturally hierarchical system that privileges English and French dominantly monoracial services and institutions over those provided for ethnic, visible minority, and aboriginal peoples. Each ethnic undertaking appears to deviate from the dominant voices and images within mainstream institutional broadcasting practices and each functions as a system peripheral, with programming generally targeted to narrow bands of the multilingual public. As a consequence of the aforementioned colour blindspot, mainstream media representations of ethnicity tend to be contained within a narrow definitional grid.

It is for these reasons that I suggest that Canadian policymakers (though not necessarily in a self-reflexive manner) have taken existing evidence of "inequality" and renamed it "diversity," a more neutral category. Relabelling inequality as "diversity" makes it easier to mask cultural and racial hierarchy and marginalization within mainstream and specialized organizations of Canadian society. There is an unequal distribution of power between those who talk about ethnicity and those who are talked about. The shift in terminology from "inequality" to "diversity" may be viewed as a discursive strategy of those ethnic peoples in power, that is, mostly anglophones and francophones, to disguise institutional and cognitive inequities embedded in their very manner of thinking about, building, and controlling institutional structures. The renaming process, however, is not enough to deal with neo-colonial practices and past prejudices, which continue to challenge the social and political interactions of our everyday lives and our mediated worlds. To make Canadian multitiered broadcasting more inclusive necessitates more than a policy discourse. All levels of the broadcasting system must open up their practices to accented voices and culturally/racially diverse portrayals of peoples of all colours. "Colour-balanced" TV requires the actual implementation, supervision, and monitoring by the CRTC of section 3(1)(d)(iii) of the Canadian Broadcasting Act.

Concluding comments

Though it still faces multiple challenges, we might say that the Canadian attempt to deal with "cultural and racial diversity" in broadcasting represents its political willingness to symbolically weave cultural and racial pluralism into the fabric of Canadian broadcasting policy and human rights legislation. This may, in the long run, have a positive outcome in provoking a re-evaluation of the way people think about cultural and racial differences in broader socio-political contexts of everyday life.

Clifford Geertz once stated that the acknowledgment of different logics, cultural, and social practices shifts around old unitary ways of thinking, and gives us a "working contact with a variant subjectivity" (Geertz 1986, 119). He writes eloquently about this phenomenon in "The Uses of Cultural Diversity":

It is the asymmetries...between what we believe or feel and what others do, that makes it possible to locate where we now are in the world, how it feels to be there, and where we might or might not want to go. To obscure those gaps and those asymmetries by relegating them to a realm of repressible or ignorable difference, mere unlikeness, which is what ethnocentrism does and is designed to to cut us off from such knowledge and such possibility: the possibility of quite literally, and quite thoroughly, changing our minds. (Geertz 1986, 114)

Have Canadian multiculturalism and ethnic broadcasting policies and practices changed our minds about issues of cultural and racial diversity?

Through public argument before the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission and through private initiatives, ethnic broadcasters have succeeded in convincing federal policymakers of their claims for a legal place within mainstream and specialty-service broadcasting policies. Though their broadcasting institutions are not universally accessible or familiar to all Canadians, ethnic licensees have come to be recognized over the years as constituents of the overall national broadcasting infrastructure. What I have argued is that while this formal acknowledgment is a good beginning, it is not enough. Ethnic and racial representativeness must become integral to every aspect of the broadcasting system from management to production to distribution to on-air work, even in times of financial constraint.

While they have not yet reached this latter goal of inclusiveness in the overall system, ethnic (as well as Aboriginal) broadcasting undertakings have begun to re-frame the meaning of Canadian broadcasting to include non-anglophone and non-francophone programming and have already contributed to the international distinctiveness of Canadian broadcasting policies and practices. In providing a media space and legal status (albeit a marginal one) for minority broadcasters within broadcasting policy, the federal government, at the very least, is multiplying the potential for changing our minds about the positions, the roles, the rules, and the representations of ethnocultural and racial minorities within a wide variety of Canadian institutions.


Although there is neither scholarly nor colloquial consensus on the popular meaning of terms like "ethnic" and visible minority, for the purposes of clarity, I have used "ethnicity" as a category which describes: (a) people who share a unique culture and who have undergone a common cultural socialization in that mother culture; and (b) people who identify with an ancestral group who have shared a distinct culture, but who have themselves been brought up in or moved to another culture (Isajiw 1979, 77). "Ethnic" and "ethnocultural minorities" refer to those peoples whose ancestral country of origin is outside of North America. "Visible minorities," originally a Canadian federal government term, refers to peoples of colour who, with the exception of aboriginal peoples, also originate from ancestral territory outside of North America. "Aboriginal" refers to those original peoples of Canada whose ancestral homeland is in North America. Finally, "allophone" is the Québécois word for those whose origin is outside of Canada, but who have integrated into one or the other of the two dominant language groups in Canada. Issues around naming and definitions of inclusiveness within each of these social categories are extremely complex and are indeed hotly debated and contested in North America at the end of the twentieth century.
When I refer to Multiculturalism policies, I shall be capitalizing the word; when I refer to multiculturalism outside of the context of policy, I shall be using a small "m."
This article will not be dealing with Aboriginal communications in great detail. Even though the federal policy assumes inclusion of Aboriginal peoples under the rubric of multiculturalism on the basis of "visible minority" status, I have chosen to restrict the article to ethnocultural and visible minority groups that are not Aboriginal because the two groups themselves draw a distinction in their claims and rights based on ancestral occupancy of Canadian territory. In the area of communications, the federal and provincial governments have both dealt with Aboriginal and ethnic broadcasting policies and practices as distinct and separate entities, but they have not talked much about the reasons behind this division. Thus, the rationale for "special status" for Aboriginal peoples in the sphere of cultural expression is not well elaborated in existing policy literatures. One place where it is alluded to is in the Applebaum-Hébert Report of the Federal Cultural Policy Review Committee which states: "In the formulation of principles for cultural policy in general, and with special regard to cultural diversity in particular, it is important that no one group have privileges, priority or precedence over others. We have come to believe, however, that a special place in cultural policy should be reserved for peoples of Indian and Inuit ancestry. This should be so for several reasons. To begin with, the cultural traditions of the original peoples are uniquely rooted in this country, as compared with those more recently derived from other cultures. In the second place, the federal government has by treaty, law and custom a special responsibility for the well-being of these peoples. Finally, and most important of all, the original cultural traditions have a set of values and aesthetic standards which have not been easily accommodated within the usual structures and practices of federal cultural institutions" (Applebaum and Hébert 1982, 11). Outside governmental policy literatures, recent arguments by constituency groups about cultural appropriation have taken up the distinctions between ethnic and Aboriginal communities in terms of separate funding allocations and accessibility to the arts and broadcasting sectors. For further reading in this area, see Fuse Magazine 16, nos. 5-6 (summer 1993) and Border/Lines, nos. 29-30 (1993). Both of these are special issues dealing with appropriation and representation of race and ethnicity.
More recently, Neil Bissoondath (1994), Canadian novelist of Trinidadian descent, and Keith Spicer (former chairperson of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission -- the Canadian broadcasting regulatory agency) have joined critics in arguing that multiculturalism is likely to generate hostilities and shift loyalties from large national entities to small ethnic enclaves, making it more difficult to establish order within a stable Canadian federation.
While recognizing the psychological impact of the state's efforts to provoke acceptance of multiculturalism, it is important to note the possibility that multiculturalism programs may degenerate into mere tokenism and ethnic folkloric activities (Kallen 1982, 290). There are many examples of this, such as the increased public representation of ethnocultural and visible minorities in Canada Day and other national holiday celebrations or the way in which the Canadian government expresses its international distinctiveness by highlighting Aboriginal and ethnocultural symbolism at exhibition sites such as world fairs or the Epcot Centre in Florida. The visible and audible portrayal of ethnicity in public life does contribute to a sense of participation in society on the part of minority groups, but it does not improve their material conditions or their institutional/structural assimilation into the economy. One is tempted to question the concern with symbolic distribution which may, indeed, serve to distract us from more critical issues related to the distribution of material benefits (ibid.). In substantive terms, multiculturalism policies have not yet fulfilled the promise of "Equality Now" at the institutional level and seem less likely to do so in the future until the economy "recovers."
To date, most licensed ethnic broadcasting undertakings have been urban-based, privately funded, commercially oriented, and multilingual (due to the past scarcity of frequencies).
At the present time in Canada, employment equity laws are restricted to federal government bureaucracies, crown corporations, federal agencies, and companies contracted to do business with the federal government, all of which must have over 100 employees. These include the CBC/Radio Canada, the NFB, the CRTC, Canada Post, among others, which have recently begun to organize frameworks for implementation of the law. In the case of the Ethnic Broadcasting Policy, this looks less explicit in that it appears as if ethnicity has become ghettoized onto specific "ethnic channels," that is, that the ethnic stations inserted into the overall system will account for the "ethnic" portion of content balance in the Canadian broadcasting system structure. Contrary to this impression, the presence of the ethnic broadcasting policy, the Broadcasting Act, and experiences to date have focused public attention on the lacuna within the broader system, and have mobilized some audience support for opening up the conventional services to fairer representations of ethnic and visible minority groups.


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