Integrating newcomers through multicultural media

Immigrants struggle to adapt to a new city but having newspapers available in their languages makes the process a little easier.

Although Ioana Enescu moved here from Focsani, Romania, she gets the majority of her information from Romanian newspapers like ZIGZAG because she still has difficulty speaking English.

Lori Abittan, president of Multicom Media
and a strong advocate for the acceptance of multicultural media in the mainstream.

“It’s wonderful to keep myself updated through the papers in my community. Everyone enjoys keeping their own culture and language alive when they are living here,” Enescu says.

Immigrating to a new country can be hard and not being able to comprehend the news in English only makes the transition more difficult and lonely, says Enescu.

Knowing that it is difficult for newcomers to grasp English right away, some publications have found their niche in the media by distributing papers in the many different languages spoken in Toronto.

“Multicultural media is an essential part of media in Canada,” says Lori Abittan, president of Multicom Media, the country’s largest multicultural news publisher. “These newspapers act as tools for integration and not assimilation.”

People feel lonely and out of touch with the city they now call home when they cannot read what’s going on.

New immigrants feel comfortable getting information in their own language because it is, after all, their mother tongue, the language of comfort, explains Abittan, who is herself an Italian immigrant.

In the past, there was very little interaction among the different communities in Toronto but Multicom Media, which has over 200 partners and caters to over 40 different languages, brings them under one banner, she says. This makes it easier for corporate Canada to reach out to the overwhelming number of markets in the multicultural media.

Another organization, the National Ethnic Press and Media Council of Canada, also brings together publishers from different cultures to discuss the issues people are facing in Toronto and around the world.

Taha Hassaniani, an Iranian journalist and a member of the National Ethnic Press and Media Council of Canada. An immigrant himself, he understands the difficulty of reading English newspapers.

They hold a monthly meeting at Queen’s Park where they talk about the concerns of people in different communities. Guest speakers are often MPPs, MPs, the police chief and even the Prime Minister, says Taha Hassaniani, an Iranian journalist who has been working in the media for 20 years and been on the council since 2006.

Instead of monthly meetings, the council should gather once a week because there is always much to discuss, says Faramarz Pourtaheri, the executive producer of Persian Magazine, an Iranian television program. It is the job of the media, and journalists in particular, to investigate and report on these issues.

“In Toronto, a big percentage of people are new immigrants so the ethnic press is an important voice in this city. Newcomers would be left behind if they did not have access to a newspaper in their language,” says Pourtaheri, an Iranian journalist who has been active in the media for 18 years and has been a member of the National Ethnic Press for two years.

In Canada, 55 per cent of the population is non-English and non-French speakers so multicultural newspapers are critical, Abittan notes.

Multicultural media allows people to look into the future, she says, but it also gives them the comfort of what they left behind.

Although a proud supporter of multicultural media, Abittan does not agree with the term “ethnic media” because these publications should not be singled out and labeled ethnic. Rather, they should be recognized as part of the mainstream media, she says.

Abittan says she has worked hard to get rid of the term “ethnic” and even for the National Ethnic Press to still use that name is counter-productive. “It is not fostering unity. They say they represent ethnic media and they say, ‘We want our cut.’ We say, ‘We represent Canadians and we want you to think of us as part of the mainstream – and we don’t just want one cut, we want to go after the whole piece.”

Making information available for immigrants to understand is not deterring them from being Canadian, she says.

“We were the first company to educate politicians about not using the word ‘ethnic’ or the word ‘tolerant’. If you have to ‘tolerate’ me, I think it’s pretty pathetic,” says Abittan.

Hassaniani admits that although having newspapers in his own language has been of great value, it kept him back from practising English. Since it is possible to read Iranian newspapers and watch Iranian news via satellite, he hasn’t paid much attention to the English media, he says.

“For over 10 years I worked for one of the most best known Iranian newspapers in Toronto, Shahrvand. I was always updated through our newspapers, so I didn’t need to look outside of the community,” Hassaniani says.

Politicians take the multicultural media seriously because they have more power than publications like the Toronto Star and the National Post, he says. Together, their circulation is higher. They can reach more citizens because a lot of people who can’t speak English will turn to the papers in their own communities.

Nonetheless, Abittan says the government does not give them enough funding.

“The federal government spends about $80 million in advertising a year, this year about $ 3 million will be allocated to multicultural media. I’m going to figure out a way of appealing to the federal government to say, ‘I want absolutely not one penny allocated to multicultural media.’ How can we have a federal government that makes the decision to say multicultural media is only worth 1.5 or 2 per cent of our total budget.”

Faramarz Pourtaheri, an Iranian journalist and the executive
producer of Persian Magazine. He
is a supporter of the National Ethnic Press and Media Council of Canada because the media needs to voice
the concerns of all people in a multicultural city, he says.

Pourtaheri agrees, hoping there will be more funds available for the National Ethnic Press because it is unfair for these publishers to be treated differently, especially when there is a big need for them, he says.

This sector should not be separated, Abittan says. It should be recognized as one media and it is a media that is providing an essential service to newcomers.

When the council gets funding from the government, it gives it to its members. In order to receive the money, the papers have to agree to use certain advertisements that the government wants, Hassaniani explains.

“There are 55 languages spoken in Canada and our papers cater to 40 but eventually we would like to cover all the languages spoken here,” Abittan said. “Our company will make history.”

Younger reporters are joining the National Ethnic Press all the time.

They bring with them new ways of looking at important issues and this helps the council improve its work, Hassaniani says. They will help the publications grow with fresh ideas and they’re more familiar with technology. The future of multicultural media will only get better, he says.

About this article

By: Sharmin Hassaniani
Posted: Nov 16 2008 10:48 am
Filed under: Features

1 Comment on "Integrating newcomers through multicultural media"

  1. I agree totally with Lori Abittan as to her understanding the word ‘tolerance’ in this context – it expressses two positions: superior and inferior. The person who ‘tolerates’ sb. places himself or herself before the other, i.e. into a superior position. No doubt, the speaker/actor means well – in most cases. This word is used very very often, has become hackneyed as fitting, usually cosidered as one of inciting to a peaceful solution of a misunderstanding/quarrel/fight. HOwever, without realising the offence he/she inflicts to the other and thus putting him/her into an inferior position.
    Could she, Lori Abittan, give me some more complete explication as to what has made her refuse the word tolerance? Since we cannot all together forget it. It belongs to our lexicon since ancient Greeks. Thank you.
    Helen Krulich

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