Breaking News: Canadian Media Fails to Represent

2020, Media + Information, Equity + Justice, Series Distant Not Disengaged

In a time of global crisis that disproportionately impacts marginalized communities, diversity in newsrooms is necessary to provide more accurate and nuanced insight into what is happening on the ground.

Join us for a conversation about how Black, Indigenous and people of colour working in journalism are demanding and creating change within their industry, and how Canadian media can and should be more accountable to both their staff and the communities they report on. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated the already weakened Canadian news media. Across the country, publications are amalgamating, reducing their output and laying off staff. Local journalism has been hit especially hard.

But the increased attention on anti-Black racism in recent weeks has again highlighted deeper problems within our journalism industry: Canadian news media fail to represent the racial diversity of the communities they serve. While many news organizations express a commitment to diversity, they don’t report on the demographics of their newsrooms or management. Without this transparency, it’s hard to have real accountability. And without diverse news teams, the perspectives of racialized communities risk falling through cracks in news coverage.

In January 2020, the Canadian Association of Black Journalists (CABJ) and the Canadian Journalists of Colour (CJOC) released seven calls to action to achieve true diversity and representation in Canadian journalism. They were largely ignored by establishment journalism organizations in Canada  until just recently, when the death of George Floyd prompted a moment of reckoning for the industry.

In this conversation – made all the more urgent in a time of crisis which is impacting the media sector – we’ll hear from a panel of journalists including some who contributed to the CABJ and CJOC’s calls to action. They’ll speak about their experiences and why racial equity in journalism is essential for both the people who tell news stories and the people who read, watch and listen to them.

Thu, 02 Jul 2020

12:00 - 1:15 p.m. (PT)

Online event

Distant, Not Disengaged

Distant, Not Disengaged was created as an experimental and innovative online event series to illuminate the urgent issues and opportunities arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. The series was a collaboration between SFU Public Square, the SFU Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue and community partner CityHive.

Watch the Series Recap


Angela Sterritt — Reporter, CBC Vancouver (Moderator)

Jessie Williams — Director of Indigenous Relations, SFU Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

Nadia Stewart — Executive Director, Canadian Association of Black Journalists

Anita Li — Co-Founder, Canadian Journalists of Colour

Bethlehem Mariam — Reporter, News1130

Sonya Fatah — Assistant Professor, Ryerson School of Journalism

Event summary

Breaking News: Canadian Media Fails to Represent - A Multimedia Recap

By Sakshi Taneja, Events and Marketing Assistant, SFU Public Square

In this time of global crisis and increased attention on anti-Black racism, the lack of racial diversity in Canadian news media has become more apparent than ever before. Diverse newsrooms are needed to accurately represent Canadians and their experiences. Consequently, on July 2, we hosted a conversation about representation in Canadian media as part of our Distant, Not Disengaged event series. For those who missed it, here is a multimedia recap including video clips and links to further reading.

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Words of Welcome from Jessie Williams

Jessie Williams, director of Indigenous relations at the SFU Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and a member of the Squamish Nation, started us off with words of welcome. Grounding us in something as intrinsic and essential as one's voice, she asserted that Indigenous people need to be represented in Canadian news media and journalism so that they can tell their own stories and have their own voices. 

All members of the Canadian population deserve to have their voice and tell their story. But research has shown time and again that Canadian newsrooms are predominantly white despite the country’s growing population of Black, Indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC). Thus, they don’t represent the communities that they serve. 

Moderation from Angela Sterritt, CBC Vancouver

“Without Black, Indigenous and people of colour working as reporters, as producers, as hosts and as managers, we’re failing our audience, but we are also failing our communities who we have often seen erased out of our coverage, skewed in our coverage or worse – the media has actually perpetuated racism in Canada,” said Angela Sterritt, our moderator for the discussion. 

Evoking the memory of George Floyd, Chantel Moore and Rodney Levi, the deaths of whom have sparked the recent uprising against racism, Angela reminded us that this is not a new conversation for BIPOC journalists who have been fighting for change for decades.

Thus, we gathered for this long overdue conversation and to, as Angela phrased it, “turn our investigatory lens onto the media industry itself and have a conversation about how to represent the actual racial and cultural diversity of the communities we report on.”

For this conversation we were joined by a panel of powerful BIPOC women who have been leading the way for this fight in Canada:

Nadia Stewart – Executive Director, Canadian Association of Black Journalists

Nadia took us through her journey to becoming a journalist, and the vital role that representation of BIPOC voices on television played in bringing her to where she is today. 

She asked pointed questions about why the Canadian media industry has limited the growth of BIPOC journalists, why BIPOC journalists don’t hold decision-making power in newsrooms, and why the Canadian media industry isn’t holding itself accountable.

Time is up, she said; it is now time for accountability and change.

Anita Li – Co-Founder, Canadian Journalists of Colour

Addressing the essential need for representation of BIPOC voices at the management level, Anita took us through the business case, civic case and moral imperative for diversity and racial equity at all levels of Canadian media.

Bethlehem Mariam – Reporter, NEWS 1130

Bethlehem spoke to the hypocrisy of Canadian media, specifically the disconnect between news organizations’ commitments to diversity and inclusion and the actions she has witnessed and experienced as a Black journalist. A deep structural shift is needed, she says. “We will need to change the matrix of success.”

Sonya Fatah – Assistant Professor, Ryerson School of Journalism

Questions & Answers

Sonya talked about her research into representation in the opinion columns of Canadian media. She also reminded us of the narratives of multiculturalism and peacekeeping in Canada and how they make Canadians resistant towards acknowledging, and thus addressing, the problem of racism and their complicity in it. 

We closed the event with a Q&A session where the panelists shared some calls to action and concrete steps individuals and organizations can take towards representation and accountability.

Q. What concrete actions need to happen to ensure that the Canadian news media is more accountable and representative to the communities we report on?

Highlighting the first of seven calls to action for media diversity created by the Canadian Association of Black Journalists (CABJ) and the Canadian Journalists of Colour (CJOC) – begin self-reporting of newsroom demographics on a regular basis – Nadia said, “There is a reason why data is the first call to action. . . . Once you have the information, then you have the knowledge to make better decisions.” She pointed out the hypocrisy that news organizations call on the government to release data, but don’t do the same, even when they say that diversity matters to them. “You measure what matters to you.”

Q. Where do we go after we have the data? What are some of the concrete actions needed to change the way we see our newsrooms at this point?

Anita pointed to the fourth of the CABJ/CJOC calls to action – formally consult with racialized communities about news coverage on an ongoing basis. “A good journalist always consults and stays in touch with their sources, but this needs to be formalized and institutional as part of every news organization's editorial process – and they need to do this with a diverse intersection of communities.” Drawing on the work she did with The Discourse in Scarborough, a racialized suburb of Toronto, Anita called for a new approach to journalism, one that is rooted in collaboration and allows people from a given community to come together to surface solutions to issues they care about. 

Q. What does pushing for structural change in Canadian newsrooms look like? How might such an approach look different from American movements? 

Sonya spoke about the research she and her colleague, Asmaa Malik, have done to develop a data self-reporting tool specifically for Canadian media organizations. She observed that there is a tendency to take what is done in the US and apply it to Canadian organizations, but we need to move beyond this. 

Q. What concrete actions need to be taken to change the current media landscape that is not at all representative of so many of our communities?

We need to value and amplify Black and Indigenous voices, said Bethlehem. Accountability and active recruitment are also needed, she said. “All of these things are lacking and would be a great first step towards shifting this narrative.”

Q. Is it possible to create the nuance necessary to delicately and respectfully handle complex racial issues when, conventionally, the news media is stuck in a two-dimensional box of headlines and minute-long stories?

We have to get beyond the “he said, she said” approach to news that this industry has fallen into, said Nadia. This is lazy journalism and leads to false narratives. We need to allow space for more depth in our storytelling.

Anita highlighted two different forms of journalism that can incorporate more nuance. First, solutions-based journalism surfaces existing solutions from communities and grassroots perspectives. “It brings an action-oriented perspective to news that empowers readers to take action,” she said. “Fundamentally, that is what journalism is about – public service and informing the populace so they can engage with the world in a productive manner.” Second, explainer-style journalism, popularized by Vox, tackles systems and systemic issues in a more in-depth and nuanced manner. This is an exciting time for journalism – we’re seeing a lot of innovations and emerging media outlets challenging the status quo, she said.

Anita ended with one request for everybody at the event: “Continue holding media – particularly establishment media outlets – accountable. Successful mass movements are the result of internal and external pressure. We want your allyship and we want your support.”

Q. What can South Asian women, arguably a group with more representation among racialized journalists, do to avoid being the token racialized co-worker and uplift other voices?

Sonya discussed the history of racialized people and how colonialism has pitted racialized communities against each other. Referring to Shree Paradkar’s recent column on anti-Blackness in the South Asian community, she said that people feel uncomfortable talking about these issues, but they replicate themselves in institutions and in hiring practices. We have to be willing to make space to address these issues, she urged. “There has to be an allyship that is much deeper than what we have seen so far.”


And with this, I leave you to contemplate how you are going to change the narratives you tell yourselves and show up as an ally for BIPOC voices.

Graphic Recording

Created by Adriana Contreras of Drawing for Change

Further Reading

Distant, Not Disengaged Final Report

Learn about the series’ impact on community connection and dialogue in this report featuring testimonials, media highlights, supporting resources and more.

Additional Resources


Distant, Not Disengaged Events