Demographic population shifts are forcing TV and radio program distributors, broadcast marketers and media advertisers alike to tailor new strategies for reaching into the diverse, segmented and multicultural marketplace.
Improved productivity, organizational effectiveness, and competitive advantage realized through workforce diversity is not a one-industry, or a one-country, issue -- it is a global reality.
That's one reason why some 38 major Canadian cultural organizations in the communications, visual arts, publishing and entertainment sectors actively supported adoption of a UNESCO Convention on Cultural Diversity, and the right of countries to have their own cultural policies.
Pierre Curzi and Scott McIntyre, co-chairs of the Coalition for Cultural Diversity (CCD), representing national cultural organizations in the book, film, music, live performance and visual arts sectors, hailed the vote as a major victory in the campaign to ensure Canadians have access to their own stories.
"What is truly historic about the UNESCO convention is that for the first time in international law we have recognition of the principle that culture is fundamentally different from other goods and services. Cultural products have a distinctive nature as transmitters of values, identity and meaning, and therefore cannot be considered solely in terms of their commercial dimension," said Curzi.
As a reflection of Canada's obviously multicultural make-up, communication industry associations and cultural organizations here across the country are thinking globally and acting locally when it comes to supporting diversity in the workplace.
The Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB), the Radio-Television News Directors Association of Canada (RTNDA), the Canadian Film and Television Producers Association (CFTPA) are among the umbrella associations with diversity initiatives. Corporate support from organizations comes from Rogers OMNI Television, Alliance-Atlantic, MuchMusic, Vision TV and many other broadcasters.
Earlier this year, the CAB's Report of the Task Force for Cultural Diversity on Television was welcomed by the federal regulator, which commended the Best Practices laid out in the Report, noting they "provide excellent tools that will assist broadcasters in implementing their corporate plans."
In its response, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) said that recommended industry initiatives were important mechanisms to ensure long-term sustainable collaboration in improving the industry's portrayal of people from Canada's ethnocultural and Aboriginal communities.
"Canada's private broadcasters take the issue of reflection and portrayal of cultural diversity on television seriously," said CAB president & CEO Glenn O'Farrell. "Together with our industry partners, we are committed to advancing the reflection and portrayal of Canada's ethnocultural and Aboriginal Peoples on television.
"As the national organization representing private broadcasters in Canada, the CAB is but one link in the chain necessary to ensure the advancement of cultural diversity on television," he added. "It is time for all industry stakeholders to step up to the plate and assume their responsibilities in this regard. It is only with the dedicated contribution of producers, guilds, unions, and broadcasters, that Canadian television and its programming reflect our diverse and rich population."
In keeping with the recommendation of the Task Force for Cultural Diversity on Television, the CAB introduced the Gold Award for Aboriginal Programming, and will present the first Gold Ribbon Award for Excellence in Aboriginal Programming at this year's conference in Winnipeg.
The new award honours the station or service that has made the greatest contribution to the development, creation and production of an outstanding Canadian program or series dealing with an Aboriginal theme or tackling an Aboriginal issue, designed to enlighten, inform and develop awareness in the community.
As well, the CAB's Diversity in Broadcasting website acts as an information hub for broadcasters and all industry stakeholders, offering an opportunity to share ideas and information about other initiatives and events.
Meanwhile, complimentary efforts by other organizations to advance diversity objectives in the broadcast industry are underway.
The RTNDA, representing some 400 news directors, reporters, producers, educators, students and industry associates across the country, recently launched a major promotional campaign to build awareness and support for cultural diversity in the news media.
A series of announcements, promoting awareness and support of diverse news operations, are airing on radio and TV outlets as part of the campaign.
"We hope this campaign will make people aware of the fact that a diverse culture is what Canada is all about, and that the news media is keen to properly reflect that diversity," explained Terry Scott, president, RTNDA Canada.
Noting that Statistics Canada predicts the country's foreign-born population will reach 22 per cent by 2017, Scott added "It's imperative that broadcasters adapt and reflect those changes to avoid a disconnect with a potentially huge audience."
RTNDA has voiced its committed to improving coverage of all forms of diversity, including the reflection of aboriginal and First Nations people, as well as Canadians with disabilities.
In addition, the RTNDA is providing educational sessions related to diversity at the association's professional development seminars and national conferences.
This past summer, for example, during RTNDA's National Conference, a dynamic panel discussion presented valuable information on what broadcasters need to know about news audience and the strategies that could be used to grow share and ratings.
The session, called Diversity: The Power, Profitability and Potential, featured a presentation by Jim McKibbin of Statistics Canada, who presented demographic evidence to show just where broadcast business potential lies.
The statistical portrait he painted was one of both opportunity and challenge.
Based on recent demographic trends, McKibbin indicated that Canada's foreign-born population now equals the highest percentage of foreign-born Canadians ever, some 22 per cent.
Change can also be seen, he said, in the country or region of immigrant origin.
Immigrants of the 60's (75%) and immigrants prior to 1961 (94%) were predominantly from Europe and the US. Immigrants of the 90's are mainly from Asia (58%), followed by those from Europe and the US (22%) who are in turn followed by all other countries of origin (19%).
McKibbon also cited a Heritage Canada study that shows more change is on the way. It indicates the country will have a median age of 35.5 for the visible minority population and 43.4 for the rest of the population within a dozen years. The Aboriginal population in Canada has a median age 13 years less than the Canadian population generally, he added, so the relative youth of these communities indicates they will continue to grow in size and impact.
The portrait of Canada shows increasing diversity, not only in the number or size of ethno-cultural groups, but the scope and reach of other minority groups, including people with disabilities.
In comparison to the Canadian experience, a recent RTNDA US report said the percentage of minorities working in local television news last year was largely unchanged across America, but the percentage of minorities working in local radio dropped.
The 2005 RTNDA/Ball State University Annual Survey indicates that minorities comprised 21.2 per cent of local television news staffs in 2004, compared with 21.8 per cent in 2003.
Bob Papper, professor of telecommunications and director of the annual RTNDA survey, said that while the percentage of minorities in radio appeared to drop, the ongoing consolidation of radio newsrooms and significant shifts from year to year in which radio stations respond to the survey make year-to-year comparisons difficult.
"The percentage of journalists of color in electronic newsrooms should be keeping pace with changes in the American population," says Barbara Cochran, RTNDA president. "RTNDA is committed to assisting newsrooms to better reflect the diverse communities they serve."
Canadian newsrooms face similar challenges and opportunities, but RTNDA Canada has assistance of $197,614 in funding over a two-year period from the Multiculturalism Program of the Department of Canadian Heritage.
"Canada's ethnic and racial diversity continues to evolve at a rapid pace," said Minister of State (Multiculturalism) Raymond Chan. "This project will help news media across Canada to better reflect our country's growing diversity and to promote the values of multiculturalism and shared citizenship."
RTNDA also participated in a CAB Stakeholder Forum on the Presence, Portrayal and Participation of Persons with Disabilities in Television Programming.
"The forum provided a valuable discussion and highlighted a number of issues that will be passed along to RTNDA's Diversity Committee," said Scott in thanking the CAB for the opportunity to participate in the vent, held July 15th in Toronto.
The event brought representatives of broadcasting and disability groups together for a day-long brainstorming session, part of the CAB's ongoing study of the topic.
In August 2004, the CAB had submitted an action plan to the CRTC concerning persons with disabilities in television programming. The CAB submitted its research findings in September of this year, in a report titled The Presence, Portrayal and Participation of Persons with Disabilities in Television Programming.
The Report provides extensive detail on the issues and barriers challenging persons with disabilities, in society and in television programming alike. It further provides a series of recommendations for the development of a broadcaster tool kit to move forward on greater inclusion of persons with disabilities within the broadcasting industry; and for addressing issues of presence and portrayal on-screen.
"Recognizing that all media, and particularly television can play a strong role in changing public attitudes on social issues, Canada's private broadcasters are committed to improving the presence, portrayal and participation of persons with disabilities in television programming. Our comprehensive report demonstrates this commitment but also highlights that our collective success depends on the collaboration and contribution of our industry partners," said the CAB's O'Farrell.
A Steering Committee, comprised of CAB members and chaired by Sarah Crawford, Vice-President, Public Affairs, CHUM Limited, was created to oversee the development and implementation of a detailed Action Plan. The Steering Committee recommended a number of tools and initiatives for broadcasters and industry partners; an Outreach Committee comprised of persons with disabilities, many of whom have experience with the broadcasting industry, provided invaluable input on the recommendations and tools.
Both the Steering and the Outreach Committees anticipated that implementation will take place primarily at the level of individual station, broadcaster or corporate group, as initiatives need to be tailored to their individual business realities and fiscal realities.
Accordingly, an increasing number of supported internships, scholarships, program initiatives and development funds are in place across the country, initiatives from both the private and public sectors to support multilingual or ethnocultural programming.
One of the most significant diversity and ethnocultural program initiatives is the seven-year, $50 million production commitment for the independent production of non-official language programming, put in in 2002 by Rogers Media: Television as part of the licensing approval process for OMNI.2.
This is the first year that productions resulting from the Rogers OMNI Television Independent Producers' Initiative were eligible for the CAB's Gold Ribbon Awards; three independent productions exclusively funded by Rogers OMNI Television achieved Finalist status, and are eagerly awaiting the awards presentation in Winnipeg..
"Rogers OMNI is proud to see these three unique projects acknowledged by industry peers at the national level," says Madeline Ziniak, Vice President and Station Manager of OMNI Television. "Their presence at the final stage of competition among other quality Canadian productions demonstrates both their excellence and the level of achievement made possible with OMNI's support."
A partner of OMNI in some of its diversity programming initiatives, VisionTV has also joined forces with Canada's National Screen Institute (NSI) to give writers from diverse backgrounds the chance to create a dramatic television series for national broadcast.
The DiverseTV program, open to visible minority and Aboriginal writers across the country, recently reached its submission deadline, by which applicants sought to be invited in a rigorous training program that teaches the skills needed to bring a television project to fruition.
Six writers will eventually take part, and be offered specialized instruction in everything from character and plot development to the pitching of finished pilot scripts. The best scripts will be selected for the second phase of the initiative: package development. Finally, one script will be selected for the final phase: production of a pilot episode, slated for 2007.
CFTPA also offers a training program for Aboriginals, Inuit and Métis that provides for an opportunity to work with a seasoned veteran in a technical field. Interns will learn and be exposed to everything from camera, editing and grip work, to sound, property and unit management.
As part of CHUM Television's commitment to encouraging participation by persons with disabilities in Canadian broadcasting, MuchMoreMusic announced its first AccessAbility Scholarship. Awarded in partnership with the National Educational Association of Disabled Students (NEADS), a $3,000 scholarship will be given to the individual who best demonstrates skill, talent, excellence and enthusiasm in pursuing a future in the broadcast industry.
Due also to be announced shortly after press time was winning application for the Alliance Atlantis Communications Diversity in Broadcasting Internship Award.
Presented by Women In Film & Television -Toronto (WIFT-T) in partnership with Alliance Atlantis Communications Inc., the program will offer one entry-level Visible Minority or Aboriginal woman the opportunity to advance her career in broadcast public affairs and communications, thanks to an internship at Alliance Atlantis and a mentorship with a senior industry executive.
"The Alliance Atlantis Communications Diversity in Broadcasting Internship is designed as a comprehensive career package," commented Heather Conway, Executive VP Marketing, Creative Services and Public Affairs. "We believe that this kind of intensive support is extremely important if we are to develop our next generation of broadcasting talent."
Broadcast organizations see a capable and diverse workforce as key for gaining an advantage over the competition. Finding new business and market opportunities means keeping abreast of changing international demographics and increasing trends towards recognizing and celebrating diversity here at home.