Ethnic media’s approach to election coverage similar to mainstream: analysis

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OTTAWA — An analysis of how ethnic media covered the federal election suggests their approach mirrored that of the mainstream press, findings the study’s author says highlight a key point about the so-called “ethnic vote” in Canada.

“One can’t assume nor should one assume that the ethnic vote in Canada is separate than the mainstream vote,” said Andrew Griffith, a former director of multiculturalism policy for the federal government.

Griffith undertook the analysis as part of an election effort called Diversity Votes, a project aimed at providing a deeper understanding of the ethnocultural makeup of the electoral map, and its implications.

The growing diversity of the Canadian electorate has seen the federal parties finding more ways to woo voters in specific ethnic groups, especially in ridings where single communities have enough voters to swing a race.

In the 2019 campaign, that took the form of everything from promises targeted directly to certain communities, ads in a variety of languages and, in a first, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh answering questions in Punjabi, which he speaks fluently.

But Griffith said that despite what the campaigns may have been trying to do, his findings show the ethnic press were covering the same issues as the mainstream media.

Ethics, relations with China and climate change were widely covered, as were the parties’ strategies and tactics, which he said was partially a reflection of the use of translated stories from the English or French press.

The Liberals and the Conservatives received equal coverage throughout the campaign. Before the race began in earnest in September, the People’s Party of Canada, along with its controversial positions on multiculturalism and immigration, received more coverage than the Greens or the NDP.

The NDP finally got a boost after the first English-language debate, where Singh was praised for his performance.

Singh’s candidacy marked a milestone in Canadian politics, as he is the first visible minority leader of a major political party. Still, Griffith said that Punjabi-language outlets, as well as those serving the Punjabi community in places like Singh’s home base of Brampton, Ont., focused far more on the local campaigns overall.

The 2019 election saw an increase of visible-minority candidates, with the biggest rise coming from the NDP.

In 2015, according to Griffith, 13 per cent of their candidates were visible minorities, and that rose to 22.9 per cent in 2019.

The number of ridings where visible minorities represented 50 per cent or more of the population rose from 33 per cent in 2015 to 41 per cent in 2019, according to census data he analysed.

Griffith’s review of media coverage examined 2,500 stories in outlets representing a variety of different language groups, as well as publications in English that cater nearly exclusively to specific communities.

The goal was to assess whether someone relying exclusively on the ethnic media would have a comparable understanding of the issues to those who rely on mainstream news outlets, and the research suggested they would.

“In other words, rather than ethnic media providing a parallel and separate space and reinforcing silos, ethnic media for the most part serves an important role in political integration through its coverage of the main political issues common to all Canadians,” the analysis concluded.

Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press

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