TORONTO, April 18, 2016 – Only when there is a crisis in the Aboriginal community, such as the suicides in Attawapiskat or missing and murdered women, do mainstream media really report on issues there. But even then, the reporting is fairly superficial, says a new report out of York University.
“The media really play an important role in national conversations, but Aboriginal issues are drastically underreported,” says co-author Daniel Drache, political science professor and senior research fellow at Robarts Centre for Canadian Studies at York University.
The report, What The Canadian Public Is Being Told About The More Than 1200 Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women And First Nations Issues, was published in the Social Science Research Network journal.
The research looked at media coverage in eight major daily newspapers in Canada from 2006 to 2015 and found more than 30,000 stories that dealt with issues relevant to Indigenous Peoples and their communities, which averaged out to about one article a day. Looking more closely at 2014 to 2015, about 2,500 articles were published in nine major daily newspapers. The main topics covered were murdered and missing Indigenous women and a call for a national inquiry.
Although, that seems like a high number, the authors say there is definite under-representation, significant gaps and distortions in the coverage. “Aboriginal issues are reported by mainstream media in what we call a ‘searchlight phenomenon’,” says Fred Fletcher, co-author and York U political science professor. “There is brief, intense coverage of Indigenous issues, such as murders, suicides, missing women or police incompetence, followed by a reporting void.”
In comparison, Indigenous media had a more optimistic bent with a strong focus on mobilizing for change and suggestions on for repairing broken relationships with government. However, First Nations media saw racism and colonialism as the root causes of their present day issues.
There are indications, however, that Canada’s media culture is changing. That sometimes depends on whether there is a human angle to the story, such as in the case of missing and murdered girl Tina Fontaine.
“What’s really been missing is a focus on the deep-rooted causes underlying the murders and disappearances of Indigenous women,” says Drache. “For Canadians to get a deeper insight into and understanding of Aboriginal affairs and the causes, Canada’s media culture has to change. More in-depth coverage is needed by journalists who are specialists in the area. The media has to accept its role setting a high standard because of the ongoing importance of reconciliation for Canadian society. This will require an extraordinary effort to keep reconciliation on the public agenda to promote public understanding.”
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