A simple observation made on social media last week has sparked widespread conversation about interrogating the South Asian media landscape.
This moment in particular stirred up a strong response, because many noted it wasn’t an isolated incident, and represented a pattern of behaviour that is far too common in South Asian media spaces.
Many of the newsrooms and boardrooms behind the largest South Asian news organizations in the Lower Mainland and beyond are run by and lead by men, allowing the insular interests and opinions of a small minority to consistently be given a platform -- one that often remains relatively unchallenged, and without any sense of accountability or questioning as to who they are meant to serve.
The misogyny, sexism, and problematic lines of questioning that are often seen in these spaces come at the expense of women and young people, creating an insular, often toxic landscape, whereby “serious” issues such as news and current affairs are targeted and marketed towards men, while women are only given space to discuss music, culture, and domestic issues.
Younger immigrants or children of immigrants have their interests and experiences largely ignored, because it is often assumed that we aren't tapped into the cultural or language-specific content offered up by ethnic media, when in fact, the very reason we aren't tapped in, is because it doesn't reflect us.
As a young Punjabi-Canadian woman, who has lived in the diasporic community of Surrey, BC her whole life, it didn’t strike me how necessary it was to disrupt the male dominance in Desi media, until this incident caused many of us to reflect on the way it has long gone unchecked -- until now.
Especially for immigrants and children of immigrants occupying space in the Western world, having media that represents and responsibly addresses the issues faced by our community is necessary, to not only bridge the gap between parents and their children, but between our homes here, and the far-away homes that many of us are still connected to and interested in.
If ethnic media is intended to represent the stories, voices and experiences of the South Asian community at large, it’s apparent that the landscape as it is operating now has been relatively unsuccessful at doing this justice.
This middle space, or “media desert” that exists between mainstream media, and traditional, ethnic media, is necessary to accurately reflect the lived experiences of first and second generation South Asian Canadians, and to allow them to interrogate and unpack the issues that are relevant to their identities in a more critical way.
We often critique mainstream media for inaccurate representations and characterizations of our community, yet at the same time we have to clean up our own backyard, and only we can call ourselves out and understand the nuances at play in doing so.
The boys club, or rather the “uncles club” in Desi media has long persisted, creating a toxic culture whereby the voices of women are generally excluded from boardrooms, as hosts, or as part of larger conversations about things that impact the community as a whole.
Whether it's fear-mongering among parents and teens, to outright bashing or undermining progressive or successful women, to irresponsibly reporting on things such as inequality, caste, and more, countless accounts and examples of irresponsible journalism have been shared online.
It’s been made clear that the target demographic of much of this programming is not representative of the whole community, and the hosts and leaders in these spaces must be called in and held accountable for the ways in which many portions of the population have been alienated and ostracized as a result of their content and programming.
Whether it’s the line of questioning used when speaking to young women, to the fact that even conversations about “women’s issues” are lead by men, to the fact that many of the opinions, viewpoints and perspectives shared on these shows go unchallenged, because the same people (uncles) are having the same conversations -- it’s time to challenge the status quo, and who it has long been serving.
In trying to find a solution, brown women have been leading the charge, saying that enough is enough and it’s time to demand better from the media that is supposed to be representing us.
But the solution doesn’t just stop at accountability, the solution comes with the very act of disruption.
It doesn’t come just by adding a woman to your board or giving us air space. To paraphrase writer Jemele Hill, I don’t want better access to patriarchy, I want it dismantled.
If these structures are to be dismantled, they need to be replaced with something that better serves the communities they were designed for.
Potential solutions have been offered up, including one by Jaskaran Sandhu, Consultant at Crestview Strategy and Former Executive Director of the World Sikh Organization, suggesting that bringing together diverse community voices is key, given that so many are dedicated to serving the community they belong to.
Punjabi culture is oriented toward the oral tradition -- through storytelling. I think of how many voices have been stifled and silenced by being told it’s “just the way things are,” and how many stories are long overdue to be told because no one felt ready or safe to speak up.
The good news is that we’ve found our voices, and there’s no quieting us now.