SFU study raps TV

Sep 05, 2002, vol. 25, no. 1

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Silent on the Set, a study released by the school of communication at Simon Fraser University, reveals that race and cultural diversity receive only lip service in English Canadian prime time television drama.

“Normalization is the dominant creative strategy in primetime Canadian television,” says SFU communication professor Catherine Murray, who directed the study examining a 69-hour sample of English Canadian prime time TV drama.

Murray notes that just 12 per cent of the 1,200 characters featured in the sample were visible minorities, an incidence roughly comparable to their incidence in the general population, according to Statistics Canada figures (13.6 percent). Aboriginal characters were almost totally absent.
What's more, visible minority speaking parts averaged just three or four minutes per dramatic hour. Cultural indicators, such as accent, were mostly avoided, with nine out of 10 such characters speaking English without an accent.

The study also discovered that visible minority characters are often bereft of any cultural context, having no interaction with family and friends outside of the workplace. Racial diversity is presented almost exclusively as an urban phenomenon.

“There is no sensitivity to the challenge of portraying diverse cultural contexts,” says Murray.

The study calls for more debate and discussion on standards of fair racial portrayal in order to improve cultural diversity on Canadian television.
Silent on the Set was produced for the department of Canadian Heritage. The study was sparked by the Canadian Eurofiction 2000 project, which traced the supply and viewing of Canadian drama on conventional television networks for the Council of Europe's annual review.

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