Last week I spent an evening with a new Canadian, a journalist by profession with deep roots in Afghanistan. He’s making a decent living doing things unrelated to his profession and is journalistically active as he is actively sought after as a writer, commentator and analyst for Afghan issues. Naturally then he is often quite flattered when called upon to offer his opinion, only thing is that he is never compensated by the media houses because when he writes, he’s a guest writer and when radio or television channels put him on air, he is an ‘expert’. Experts apparently don’t get paid.
Used for free
I can relate to that experience because I too have and continue to find myself called upon to help out mainstream journalists on issues relating to India or the Indian community in Canada.
If communal riots break out in India, I can bet a $1,000 that atleast two or three media outlets will urgently contact me for my expert opinion. In 2012 for example when India and the world was horrified by the brutal rape and torture of Nirbhaya on a bus in Delhi, I received a call early one morning from a television reporter who spent almost half-an-hour peppering me with such basic questions that I almost started to doubt she was a journalist. She was Caucasian and knew little or nothing about India as was evident based on her questions. She asked me to put her in touch with two or three noted Indian commentators/activists in New Delhi or Mumbai who could appear on her news segment later. I duly complied, made calls to these people and even called her back with their cellphone numbers. Needless to say I didn’t get any credit for all my help. Could I expect a mainstream media personality to go out of their way to assist me on a story?
Ethnic media needs to be respected
I’ve had mainstream media professionals call me after coming across an online article I wrote while researching a subject. As a professional, I am happy to give my perspective from time to time, but what bothers me is that these media houses most of whom champion diversity in the workplace have very few reporters or analysts from the diverse communities that exist here in Canada. They see little reason to have ethnic experts on the staff when all they need to do is to call up an ethnic expert who will drop everything he or she is doing in order to appear on a mainstream television program, radio show or be quoted in a newspaper. The Caucasian reporter with little understanding about a particular community and the issue will get on the internet and find media people like myself to comment on an Indian or South Asian issue or get a Chinese reporter to cast light on an issue facing that community.
Mainstream media need to do homework
Last October when the massive Afghanistan-Pakistan earthquake struck leaving hundreds dead, I was surprised to get a call from a producer working at a national radio station, who wanted to set me up for a five-minute interview with the radio host about the disaster as well as its impact on the Pakistani community in Toronto. I had to gently suggest that he’d be better served getting in touch with a Pakistani community leader or organization. He was surprised because he thought as a South Asian, I’d be in a position to comment on any issue relating to that region. He then asked if I knew any Pakistanis who’d be qualified to talk on the issue but I decided then and there that I’d stop being a free resource for mainstream media houses who have no qualms using professionals like me for free. We are good enough to be quoted in mainstream media, our expertise on subjects and research is sought after by well-paid Caucasian media professionals but ethnic media persons are seldom good enough to be hired, trained and given an equal opportunity to shine.
Ethnic media has finger on community pulse
When I was a media person in Mumbai writing for an English-language daily, our reporters could be routinely found scouring local language newspapers or listening to other language radio stations. It was common knowledge that ethnic media news outlets had the pulse on the community. Their writers felt less restrained to be politically correct or withhold news because it couldn’t be properly authenticated. But these stories were often picked up by reporters working at English-language dailies and given national and international prominence. Mainstream Canadian media usually will give ethnic newspapers a pass and with the result end up never truly writing about the real issues confronting immigrant Canada and when they do, it is often superficial.
In Canada, ethnic media outlets receive little or no respect from the mainstream media, its writers sometimes get their 15 minutes of fame when they are called to offer their opinion on a news segment for two full minutes.