To ethnic media: ‘Empower the community’

By Veteran journalist Haroon Siddiqui

TORONTO – “Your main role is to cover your community and equally to empower your community in Canada. You help the people in your community to integrate into Canada, help them have equal access to professions, make sure that the workers are not exploited, that they are treated equally as citizens. That is your primary role.”

With those words, veteran Canadian journalist Haroon Siddiqui summarized his talk before members and guests of the Philippine Press Club-Ontario on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2006 at the Cusina restaurant. His topic was “The Role of the Ethnic Media in the Community”.

Siddiqui is the Editorial Page Editor Emeritus of Toronto Star for which he has been writing since 1978. He writes a column for the Star two times a week.

Siddiqui first painted a picture of what is happening in Canada as a diverse society and in Canadian journalism before he spoke of the ethnic media.

He said immigrants are allowed to get into Canada because Canada needs them. “Refugees are very grateful to be in in this country. But immigrants have nothing to be grateful for. It is a two-way contract. We brought them in because we need them. Therefore they have to be treated with a sense of equality, whether they’re working in the kitchen or as CEOs. Everyone that comes here is a first class citizen with dignity as valid as mine or any other person’s.”

Siddiqui also blasted the expectation that immigrants should leave the problems of their old country behind them. “People don’ develop amnesia. It is stupid to ask the question, do you love your old country or do you love Canada? It is like asking a woman, whom do you like most, your father, your husband or your son? I am as connected to India as I am connected to Canada. There is no dichotomy between being a Filipino and being a Filipino Canadian. This is a very important psychological and sociological principle that should guide us.”

Siddiqui then talked about the psychological shift that the mainstream media are undergoing. “We have this diverse community. How do we cover it? The Toronto Star has evolved a kind of journalism that is not seen in the United States. We try to bring in as many communities as possible into the mainstream.” He said has to write his column about communities in a way that transcends those particular communities, in a way that other communities can relate to. This is the kind of global journalism that is happening in Canada.”

He chided some community journalists who give in to pressures from local politicians, businessmen and local consulates. “It is not the end of the world if you are not photographed with Mr. McGuinty. He needs you more than you need him. Your consul general wants you to write about the Philippines. That is his job not your job, that is only partially your job. Businessmen will give you an ad if you write about them or you feature them in your radio or TV program. These pressures apply if you’re not independent editorially.”

Siddiqui gave the example of a politician who wants his picture or story published in an ethnic paper. “He should be asked, what has he done for the community? What has he delivered? By and large, he’s making a fool of you. You job eventually becomes to hold their feet to the fire. ‘What have you done on this bill that relates to elderly care? What have you done about the working conditions of the Filipinos who have come under the child care program? For the doctors and engineers, etc. who are not getting access to their professions? This requires a lot of policy work, it is not like going to birthday parties. But they have to be done. You owe it to these people to stand up for them. You owe it to Canada.”

“There are times when you have to stand up for your community. And it means challenging the national narrative, the official narrative. And that takes some courage,” he added.

For community journalists who are working hard despite the low revenues of the business, Siddiqui was all praise. “Canada is richer for them.”

A question and answer followed his talk. He was presented a certificate of appreciation by the PPCOofficers