Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
Tim Knight

GET UPDATES FROM Tim Knight
 

Watching the Watchdog: The Organization Fighting "Isms" in the Media

Posted: 07/03/2012 2:26 pm

Tim Knight writes the regular column Watching the Watchdog for HuffPost Canada.

A couple of months ago, I was given the Innoversity Creative Summit's Angel Award.

I didn't write about it at the time -- for HuffPost or anyone else -- because I didn't know how to without coming across as self-promoting, self-aggrandizing or any other self-thingy that we journalists aren't supposed to be.

Not to mention, conflict of interest and all that.

But in retrospect, I believe I was unfair to Innoversity. The not-for-profit organization has spent the past 13 years struggling with some success "to create opportunities for cultural minority, Aboriginal and disabled Canadians to actively engage with, and be reflected within, key social sectors and institutions."

That's institution-speak for fighting racism and all the other isms that still stain our society, particularly our media.

I've decided that just because Innoversity gave me the award doesn't mean I should now pretend it never happened. That would be grossly unfair to a very important force for past and future change in Canadian media which, as you may know, is where I hang out.

So here goes.

The Innoversity Creative Summit has been held in Toronto since 2000. Every year, some 300 people -- among them visible minorities, whites, Aboriginals, people with disabilities and students -- come together to try to make Canadian media a whole lot more inclusive and diverse.

But surely, you ask, hasn't all that stuff been settled already? Everyone knows the Charter of Rights and Freedoms bans discrimination "based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability."

Of course it does. But that doesn't mean Canada's media accurately reflect our 35-million people. For instance, one out of every four Canadians is visible minority or Aboriginal.

One out of every four!

And in Toronto -- media capital of the nation -- very soon every second person you pass on the street or sit next to on the subway or in a restaurant will be visible minority or Aboriginal.

In spite of that, the worlds of visible minorities and Aboriginal Canadians remain a sort of no-man's land for mainstream Canadian journalism -- which still reports and assigns news stories about a world seen almost entirely through white, middle-class, middle-aged eyes (whether or not the journalists themselves are white, middle-class and middle-aged).

Journalists are just like everyone else. What we see depends on who we are, where we've come from, how we've been trained and where we stand. As a result, our news priorities and coverage are almost entirely based on the experience, values and prejudices of just three quarters of Canada's people.

Unless they're protesting, in some sort of trouble, or there's a colourful, noisy ethnic celebration, the other quarter is more or less ignored.

All of which is why the Innoversity Creative Summit gathered together again this year.

To try once again to include some of the excluded.

There were workshops on how to pitch broadcast projects. Pitching sessions to media professionals. Face-time meetings with some of those professionals. Workshops on making documentaries, taking advantage of social media, improving creativity etc. And time, as always, for networking.

Underlying everything this year, as at all Innoversity Summits over the years, was a yearning for genuine Canadian media diversity and inclusivity.

Innoversity is the third child of two extraordinary co-founders, Hamlin Grange and Cynthia Reyes. Both are former journalists and both are covered with the sort of awards often given to those who go though life with the motto:

"Some people see things as they are and say why? I dream of things that never were and say, why not?"

All these years, Hamlin Grange and Cynthia Reyes have organized Innoversity (and sometimes subsidized it out of their own pockets) in a labour of love dedicated to improving and increasing Canadian diversity and inclusion.

Just because they gave me that very nice award doesn't mean I shouldn't say nice things about them.

Or today, quote part of my thank-you speech:

In my long life I have seen what powerful forces for good diversity and inclusion are and can be. I saw them first as a very young reporter in South Africa in 1960. During the apartheid years. I was the only white able to get through police lines to report on the funerals of 69 black people slaughtered by police in a township called Sharpeville.

The coffins and graves, 69 of them, stretched in a long straight line all the way to the horizon. Thousands of rightly furious black people chanting black power slogans, surrounded me. This very white boy suddenly in this very black world. Yet instead of throwing me out or attacking me, they welcomed and protected me. I was included in their mourning. In their grief.

At that moment I became part of a truly wider world. A world of diversity and inclusion. Ever since, I have tried to be worthy of the generosity of those mourners who had every reason to turn on me. To take revenge for the sheer, bloody, white racist brutality of the slaughter at Sharpeville. Perhaps even to kill me. But nobody even threatened me. Instead, they included me.

The magnificent Nelson Mandela epitomized the generosity of those Sharpeville mourners. He understood the sheer power of both diversity and inclusion. And by so doing, saved his nation from bloody civil war. I haven't even nearly succeeded in being worthy of your Angel award. Not even nearly.

But I've tried. Thank you all very much. Particularly, of course, the truly splendid -- Cynthia Reyes and Hamlin Grange. Worthy parents of Innoversity.

 

Follow Tim Knight on Twitter: www.twitter.com/TimKnight6

FOLLOW CANADA