Ethnic media and Teflon mayors

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According to the National Ethnic Press and Media Council of Canada there some 75 South Asian newspapers; 55 broadcast companies scattered across the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). These papers consider themselves "opinion builders."

There are some 75 South Asian newspapers; 55 broadcast companies scattered across the GTA. (Source: National Ethnic Press and Media Council of Canada) These papers consider themselves “opinion builders” and can be picked-up from any ethnic grocery store.

Last year, Brampton’s Mayor Susan Fennell, doled out her best wishes—through official press releases — to the city’s South Asians for a slew of desi festivals.

Fennell’s attempt to endear herself to the city’s South Asians may have something to do with the upcoming municipal elections.

If the editor of a Punjabi daily is to be believed, Fennell will win despite a controversy surrounding her use of taxpayers’ monies for travel and tourism.

While the mainstream media, including the one I work for, has been receiving a deluge of letters from citizens expressing outrage at Fennell’s penchant for first-class travel, the ethnic media is in a forgiving mood.

Similarly, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford—a public relations nightmare — has the support of many from Chinese community, says Arjuna Ranawana, manager, OMNI Toronto.

Ranawana should know.

His news outlet is a fixture at ethnic events, be it a celebration, festival or an issue of national importance. In short, OMNI has its ears to the ground.

So, in the wake of Ford’s cocaine scandal, when OMNI News’ Mandarin and Cantonese speaking crew took to the streets of Toronto’s China Town, they found many people were still solidly behind Ford. Huh, who knew? But that scenario can change if Olivia Chow decides to throw her hat in the ring, said Ranawana, a member of the Canadian Ethnic Media Association (CEMA).

“Our niche and our effectiveness comes because we are very connected to the ethnic community, not just to the newer communities like the Chinese and the South Asians, but older ones like the Italians and the Polish,” he said. “When two generations of families are born here, they become consumers of mainstream media. We serve the older generation and new immigrants. Our strength lies in the fact that we are able to report Canadian content in people’s language of comfort.”

This tenacious connection, believe it or not, is a huge deal to those otherwise isolated because of language barriers.

The National Ethnic Press and Media Council of Canada, whose mandate is to promote and integrate the interests of ethnic communities into the mainstream, says there some 75 South Asian newspapers; 55 television and radio outlets scattered across the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

Those numbers reflect the group’s appetite for politics. It doesn’t matter which country they hail from, the desis are vocal. In Toronto, any grocery store that stocks curry powder, vegetables and condiments, will also house boxes holding stacks of free newspapers in Punjabi, Hindi, English, Tamil and Urdu.

Jagdish Grewal, editor/publisher, Canada Punjabi Post, believes Fennell will be re-elected again.

“The Punjabi community will still support Mayor Susan Fennell,” Grewal told me. “She’s very outgoing and has developed links with every single organization. She attends all functions and has build personal relationship with everyone.”

A few years ago, when the Indian International Film Festival Awards (IIFA) came to Toronto, Fennell walked the carpet in a cerulean blue salwar-kameez (traditional dress) to take in the premiere of a mindless three-hour Bollywood caper. At that time I remember thinking only a seasoned politician can sit through that ordeal.

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