In an announcement last week, Corus Entertainment, the parent company of Global News, announced the appointment of Bhupinder Hundal as News Director and Station Manager of Global BC.
The decision was monumental for a number of reasons, given that even in a province as diverse as BC, and in a country that prides itself on its multiculturalism like Canada, legacy media does not have a great track record in representing minority groups.
Canadian newsrooms, their leadership, and their media coverage have historically failed to reflect the diversity of this country -- doing listeners and readers a great disservice.
A 2010 Ryerson study on media diversity found that “visible minorities were significantly under-represented in leadership positions, accounting for only 14% of leaders, compared to 49.5% of the general population under study.”
The stories that are chosen to be covered by the media, who is assigned these stories, who is interviewed, and what goes to print or air shapes so much of what we as a society deem important or valuable, or can play a role in either reinforcing or countering stereotypes or narratives of a particular situation, or groups of people.
A Toronto Star article by UBC Journalism professors Mary Lynn Young and Candis Callison sums up the need for a new approach to journalism quite well:
“The way the media represents events tells us a lot about who and what counts in terms of the contemporary social order — whose interests are on top and whose aren’t, whose life and voice matters and whose doesn’t.”
“Journalists need to set aside their long love affair with objectivity and learn to locate themselves in terms of their social histories, relations, and obligations. Journalists need to recognize that what they think happened is deeply related to who they are and where they’re coming from in broad and specific senses.”
In this sense, especially as the Station Manager and News Director who is responsible for overseeing the newsroom -- who Hundal is, and where he comes from matters a great deal in choosing what stories are covered in BC, especially on such a large platform like Global News.
In the absence of culturally competent, accurate and nuanced coverage of racialized groups, many minorities would normally turn instead to ethnic media to receive their news, often creating further division, and reinforcing the idea that issues that impact minorities should be relegated to spaces like these, instead of in the mainstream.
Ethnic media is also not perfect in accurately reporting on the lived experiences of South Asians, but people like Bhupinder, who was previously the News Manager of OMNI Television, worked with Hockey Night in Canada Punjabi, and founded CrossConnect Media, a media company designed to enhance the profile of mainstream news organizations in ethnic communities, are the kinds of people we need in the room to help bridge this divide, and bring minority interests to the mainstream.
Hundal also has more than two decades of media experience.
Having a South Asian man -- a Punjabi, Sikh man in particular -- as the head of a newsroom means that it is more likely, although certainly not guaranteed, that diverse angles, diverse stories, and diverse people are more likely to have a seat at the table, to have their stories heard, and to have them told accurately and fairly, including cultural nuances.
It is also important to note that the person who held this role before Hundal, Jill Krop, stepped down from the role in the fall after an investigation by Vice News on allegations of systemic racism at the company.
“12 current and former Global News and Corus Entertainment employees alleged the company has a culture of racism, retaliation for speaking out, and a lack of accountability. Several of the most outspoken internal critics were laid off," says the article.
The decision to succeed Krop with Hundal will hopefully be the start of addressing some of the allegations made in that report, but certainly isn't an all ecompassing solution.
Objectivity is always the norm peddled in newsrooms, premised on the idea that only when those setting the agenda for news stories do not have a vested interest in the outcome of a story can it be said to have been reported responsibly.
However, media in Canada, including Global News, have often seen stereotypes or mischaracterizations fly under the radar in ways that are harmful to racialized folks, and perpetuate systemic racism in this country.
“Most mainstream newsrooms remain predominantly white and are resistant to understanding and addressing how equity, social justice and professional norms impact their ability to report on events,” say Callison and Young.
Although for the most part this is still true in Canadian newsrooms, it is certainly a step in the right direction for Global News to add someone like Hundal to their organization in a leadership position, because having diverse voices in the conversation of what makes the front page and how we tell these stories, matters.
It also goes to show minorities that the ceiling isn’t only so high for us in these spaces.
We don’t bring value to newsrooms simply for being the “brown journalist,” or for offering our expertise in relation to our community -- although this is definitely an added benefit.
It is an incredible feat to know that as South Asians, our contributions to newsrooms aren’t valuable solely in relation to our identity.
As members of society, as Canadians, we have so much value to bring to any newsroom, covering any topic, or even leading the newsroom itself, and bringing with us a lens that is more reflective of the diversity of BC, and more aware of both the subtle and systemic inequities at play in society.
Having people of colour in positions of power isn’t enough to completely erase histories of disservice to communities of colour, and to absolve Global of past harms, but it sure is a good place to start.
It is also important to note that multiple truths can exist simultaneously, and without detracting from the incredible accomplishment of Hundal, and how exciting it is to see someone like him in this role, Global's parent company, Corus Entertainment has a not-so-great track record with other minority employees.
Earlier this year, a prominent Global News radio host on the other side of the country, in Toronto, quit the station and filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission after “alleging that the company’s refusal to enforce journalistic standards on talk radio resulted in her receiving an increase in racist comments and violent threats.”
Supriya Dwivedi resigned as co-host of The Morning Show on Global News Radio 640 Toronto in October. She told Vice News that “the volume of vitriol she received was exacerbated by Corus’ refusal to mitigate misleading content on air.”
“Dwivedi said the crux of her human rights complaint is that Global News radio division created and cultivated an audience that makes it untenable for any racialized person to be a host at the station.”
Since then, “A Global News executive said the media outlet is “taking action” but declined to give specifics.”