Immigrant journalists face tough hurdles
Problem acute in French media: panel
They speak too slowly. They speak too quickly. They have a foreign accent. They’re the wrong colour for TV. They’re too opinionated. They aren’t plugged into Quebec society.
Excuses like that are keeping qualified immigrant journalists – and even people educated here – out of Quebec’s mainstream media, an anti-racism roundtable heard last night.
With few exceptions, the problem is acute in the French media but less pronounced in the English media, where outlets like CanWest Global’s CH Montreal ethnic TV channel give minorities a chance, panelists told an audience of 60 people.
“How much room is there for us? There isn’t any, or at least very little,” said Rwandan immigrant Léo Kalinda, a reporter at Radio-Canada’s Dimanche Magazine program.
“Just last week, one of the bosses at work told a young black reporter, ‘You’re not bad, but we already have a black woman on the air. You don’t think one is enough?’ ”
“The Quebec media are pretty much closed to foreigners,” agreed Haitian immigrant Jean-Ernest Pierre, director of CPAM Radio Union.com, a private radio station in Montreal’s north end.
When foreign journalists do get a break, it’s usually only to be interviewed for stories that affect their ethnic communities, he added.
“I’m also trained as a lawyer and I could very well be called on to comment on the Hells Angels’ trials. But instead, the media just want me to talk about events in Haiti.”
“It’s the anglophone community that makes the effort,” said Télé-Quebec host Anne-Marie Dussault, president of the 1,700-member Fédération professionelle des journalistes du Québec.
“Why is there no CH Global in the francophone community?”
Organized as part of Quebec’s Action Week Against Racism, the French-language roundtable was held at the Centre St. Pierre, near Radio-Canada headquarters in the city’s east end.
Among the barriers to employment cited last night: an accent that isn’t French-Canadian enough for TV or radio, a lack of knowledge of Quebec society and difficulty adapting to the less-opinionated style of journalism practiced here.
Of the 4,000 journalists who work in Quebec (mostly on contract or as freelancers), the large majority are white francophones. That partly reflects Quebec’s lower immigration levels, especially when compared to Ontario.
Montreal also has a number of “ethnic media” that target specific communities like francophone North Africans and anglophone South Asians.
If foreign and visible minority journalists can’t find work here, one major reason is economic, Dussault said: media convergence and cutbacks in the last decade have shrunk the job market for everyone.
“People come here and think this is the kingdom of free expression,” Dussault remarked.
“But the sheer law of numbers works against their chances of making it in this profession.”
Another problem is some immigrants misunderstand what journalism here is all about, Dussault added. The FPJQ sometimes denies membership to immigrant journalists in the ethnic press, including a Vietnamese woman who applied last week, she noted.
“If you’re just a lobby for your community, it’s not really journalism.”