Protest in Toronto Sparks Dialogue on Media's Responsiblity to Cultural Communities

BlogHer Original Post

There is a bit of irony in this image: Sitting on a Streetcar on Monday afternoon, I whizzed through one of Toronto's busiest intersections to see a large number of Sri Lankan young men and women, standing by the side of the street holding Canadian and Tamil Tiger flags. They were chanting something that I couldn't hear (I was blasting Napalm Death on my headphones), but previously knowing that there was a huge demonstration planned to pressure the Canadian Government to lift its ban on fundraising for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, I knew that it was about that issue. The government has labeled the organization a terrorist organization, but protesters feel that if the ban is lifted, it will help stop the 30 years of war and extensive human right violations against the Tamil Community in Sri Lanka.

I was happy to see so many young people, whom despite that most likely a number of them had lost relatives in the uprising in their home country,were out to help their cause. As a former rabid protester for a variance of social ills, it made me believe that despite the overabundance of news reports that say that ' kids these days are up to no good,' it was nice to see all these young 'uns who felt passionate about their cause - even though I had / have little knowledge on the issue at hand.

But where was I going? To get hair extensions - you can blame my former hairdresser for that one.

Okay, so anyway, over the next couple of days - besides wondering whether the money I had just dropped could have been sent to Sri Lanka - I checked my hometown paper and some blogs to see what was going on. Some had wondered whether the waving of the Tamil Tigers flag was, in fact illegal and there seems to be some contention from others in the community as to whether it should have been present at the protest.  

While this is the second protest that has happened in Toronto this year, It was interesting to see how the news media has handled it. At a recent event, Sri Lanka: Conflict and Coverage Toronto Star Reporter Lesley Circula Taylor, whom talked about her experiences reporting on Sri Lanka and the Toronto communities was asked by someone in the audience about the seemingly lack of stories about Sri Lanka - I'm assuming that they were specifically talking about the war. Taylor - whom admittedly I have worked with in the past as she edited a number of stories I've written about race & ethnicity for The Star, seemed a bit confused about the question.

After all, doesn't every cultural / religious / ethnic group want more coverage in a national newspaper about community concerns? Taylor started off saying that her newspaper had indeed covered several stories in the past, and admittedly said that no, the newspaper would not cover the story any more than what they had already had.

When I'm doing a story as one of the Star's two immigration reporters and I'm thinking, "I don't quite understand this," my only recourse is to find someone else and interview them. I keep talking to more and different people because every point of view helps color in the picture -- and remind me that no nationality is homogenous.

I take all the help I can get to understand the nuances. My friend and colleague, Bagashree Paradkar, who launched the Star's now-defunct south Asian magazine Desi Life, explained that a south Asian saying 90 or 99 per cent was just a figure of speech. It means nothing more than a lot.

It helps to understand my own biases, as well. My Australian mother loathed chronic whining -- whingeing, the Aussies called it, mostly by the English. Your arm could drop off and she didn't want to hear it. She would fix it -- just don't whine about it. So I find complaining peculiar, but I have to recognize that some cultures complain by habit. Canadians, for example.

We try to get inside communities and tell their stories but there is a double-standard often in play. Yes, there are real stories to be done about abuse in south Asian families. But there are a startling number of journalists my age who grew up in Scots-Irish families with one or two alcoholic and abusive parents. We've never written that story because, quite frankly, they think it was normal.

Honestly? I was really confused by the above statement and the article itself. Was she saying that there would not be any more reporting on the war because there was an assumption that people were complaining that people were dying everyday? Now I can certainly understand that a national newspaper does not want to spend more time on one issue when there are several other issues that are happening within the GTA. But on the other hand, don't Canadians, regardless of their birth country, want a newspaper that reflects the cultural diversity within the city - in a  country that brags about it's multiculturalism?

Anyway, I found a couple of interesting workshops coming up in the U.S of A: In Charlotte, North Carolina, there is a Media Workshop for Community Groups, which helps activists and organizer build better relationships with the media in their cities.

There is also a 2-day workshop in NYC for New York-based journalists who report on the cultural communities within the various boroughs in the city, hosted by The New York Times and the Investigative Reporters and Editors association.

Anyway, leave your opinions on this, my fine readers at Blogher because quite frankly, I was confused.

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