Autumn 2016 / Leading Edge
Investigating Media Bias

Visible minority political candidates get short shrift from newspapers, study finds


Photo of a stack of newspapers with the headline "NEWS" appearing on the front page at the top

Photo: iStock

Canadians take pride in the country’s reputation for inclusivity and diversity, but new research from U of T Mississauga shows that when it comes to reporting on politics, there’s room for improvement.

In her new book, Prof. Erin Tolley of political science examines how minority political candidates are treated by the mainstream press. Framed: Media and the Coverage of Race in Canadian Politics reveals that while overt racism rarely occurs in the pages of Canadian newspapers, assumptions about race and diversity often influence media coverage to the detriment of visible minority candidates.

Tolley surveyed coverage of the 2008 federal election by 18 English-­language daily newspapers, comparing articles about white candidates to articles about candidates from visible minority backgrounds. Tolley analyzed each story’s main focus, the policy issues candidates were shown to be interested in and the extent to which each candidate was portrayed as a legitimate contender with a chance of winning.

She found that articles about minority candidates received less prominence and were less likely to be positive in tone, portray candidates as electorally viable or focus on issues that mattered most to the electorate. “Minority candidates were not included in conversations about key issues like the economy,” she says. Tolley adds that these differences in coverage could not be explained by any factor other than race.

Tolley notes that some visible minority candidates are aware of these factors and work to counter them. One candidate said that when he speaks in the House of Commons, he posts the video online so people can see that he’s articulate and speaks without an accent. Others work to demonstrate expertise in areas unrelated to immigration and diversity.


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