Multiculturalism in Canadian Broadcasting

Multiculturalism Series, Part 4 of 4canada-flag_mosaic

Canada’s multiculturalism policy has been more successful in theory than in practice. Nevertheless, it is clear that the Canadian Multiculturalism Act has promoted some positive developments in various federal programs and institutions, including the Canadian broadcasting industry.

Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

Many of the key priorities of the Canadian Multiculturalism Act are entrenched into the Broadcasting Act of 1991. For example, Section 3(iii) declares that the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), “through its programming and the employment opportunities arising out of its operations serve the needs and interests and reflect the circumstances and aspirations, of Canadian men, women and children, including equal rights, the linguistic duality and multicultural and multiracial nature of Canadian society and the special place of aboriginal peoples within that society.”

The CBC has incorporated this clause directly into its program policies, in particular Policy 1.1.4 (Multicultural Programming), in which the Corporation indicates its intent “to continue to reflect the multicultural richness and multiracial characteristics of Canadian society” in keeping with its long practiced policy of cultural pluralism in its programming. In practice, the CBC has moved gradually towards more comprehensive programming for all Canadians.

Strong programming for the charter peoples has always been available: CBC Radio One, CBC Radio Two, the Première Chaîne and the Chaîne culturelle, CBC Television and Radio-Canada’s Télévision française. More recently, programming for aboriginal groups (radio and television services to northern Canada, offering programming in English, French and eight aboriginal languages) and for other cultural groups (Radio Canada International, offering programming in English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Mandarin, Cantonese, Russian, Ukrainian and Portuguese) has been made available. Nevertheless, broadcasting in Canada cannot yet be said to reflect the breadth of the country’s ethno-cultural plurality.

Multicultural Programming

In “The Delicate Act of ‘Colour Balancing’: Multiculturalism and Canadian Television Broadcasting Policies and Practices” Lorna Roth blames the lack of original high-quality ethnic-language programming in Canada on a lack of funding. As a result of economic constraints, the practice of brokerage has developed, whereby independent ethnic producers purchase blocks of radio and television time and “determine the program content and commercial messages and derive revenue from the advertising contained therein.”

Brokerage is problematic for a number of reasons, including the question of Canadian content quotas: “For example, what is Canadian about Italian-language programming produced in Italy and produced for broadcasting purposes?” Moreover, Roth suggests that multicultural broadcasting policies enable only “specific ‘ethnicity’ projects that the federal government considers worthy of funding or licensing.” As a result, ethnic groups must compete for limited resources and become dependent on government programs and regulations.

In “Canadian Broadcasting an Multiculturalism: Attempts to Accommodate Ethnic Minorities,” Eric Thomas agrees that the economic imperative plays a determinant role in the expression of multiculturalism and cultural convergence in Canadian television broadcasting: “[W]hile broadcasting was officially developed as a tool for the fostering of national and cultural identities, the tendency within the industry is to consider the viewing public as audiences, markets, and commodities, thus creating a gap between the legislative and policy discourse and the actual performance of broadcasters.”

Equitable Portrayal in Canadian Broadcasting

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s approval of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ Equitable Portrayal Code in 2008 may address the barriers to ethnic programming available in Canada. The Code aims to “facilitate a broadcasting system that is fair, accurate and inclusive in its delivery of informative, entertaining and enlightening programming to all audiences, in furtherance of the multicultural objectives of the Broadcasting Act.”

In keeping with the Broadcasting Act and the Canadian Multiculturalism Act, the Code continues the federal government’s work towards inclusiveness in the overall system. As Roth points out, while this goal has not yet been achieved, “ethnic (as well as Aboriginal) broadcasting undertakings have begun to reframe the meaning of Canadian broadcasting to include non-Anglophone and non-Francophone programming and have already contributed to the international distinctiveness of Canadian broadcasting policies and practices.”

Federal institutions such as the CBC also continue to work towards supporting Canadian cultural diversity. “CBC/Radio Canada: Reflecting Canadian Cultural Diversity,” for example, outlines the CBC’s commitment to multiculturalism, including programming that offers a wide range of perspectives and ideas, and reflects Canada’s cultural communities and visible minority groups; internal diversity initiatives intended to ensure broad representation in the Corporation; and community outreach work in diverse communities. According to this publication, diversity is the key to CBC/Radio-Canada’s success: “Authentically reflecting Canada and its communities serves all Canadians better and results in audience growth and diversification.” The reference to “audience growth,” however, is a reminder of both Roth and Thomas’s concerns with the economic drivers behind Canadian broadcasting.

See also: Immigration and Multiculturalism Policy in CanadaThe Beginnings of Official Multiculturalism in Canada, and Canadian Multiculturalism Policy: Challenges and New Research


Government of Canada. Annual Report on the Operation of the Canadian Multiculturalism Act 2007-2008.

CBC Mandate.” CBC/Radio-Canada: Program Policies. 1994.

CBC/Radio-Canada: Reflecting Canadian Cultural Diversity.” CBC/Radio-Canada. 2008.

Multicultural Programming.” CBC/Radio-Canada: Program Policies. 1994.

Roth, Lorna. “The Delicate Act of ‘Colour Balancing’: Multiculturalism and Canadian Television Broadcasting Policies and Practices.” Canadian Journal of Communication (Vol 23, No 4), 1998.

Thomas, Eric. “Canadian Broadcasting and Multiculturalism: Attempts to Accommodate Ethnic Minorities.” Canadian Journal of Communication (Vol 17, No 3), 1992.


© Jennifer Bertrand, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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