New report shows Aboriginal issues receive less than half of 1% of Ontario media coverage

Media monitoring report by Journalists for Human Rights examines Ontario media's coverage of Aboriginal people, culture, and issues.

TORONTO, Sept. 4, 2013 /CNW/ - A new study released today by Journalists for Human Rights, Buried Voices: Media Coverage of Aboriginal Issues in Ontario, shows that media stories about Aboriginal issues made up less than half of one per cent of media coverage - three years running.

Most of that coverage focuses on crises. And most of the crisis coverage is negative.

These are just some of the findings in Buried Voices, which examines the trends, news spikes, and total print and online media coverage of Aboriginal people, culture, and issues by Ontario-based media organizations from June 2010 - May 2013.

"This report is the first to track both the quantity and tone of coverage of Aboriginal issues in Ontario," says Rachel Pulfer, executive director of Journalists for Human Rights. "The findings are eye-popping. With less than 1% of coverage going to Aboriginal issues, the need for initiatives that support balanced, fact-based coverage of Aboriginal communities is clear and urgent - stories that are not just about crises every two months or so, but more regular coverage that puts a human face on daily life in Aboriginal communities, and ensures voices from those communities are informing the public conversation on how to tackle issues the communities face."

With contributions and analysis from media and Aboriginal experts Duncan McCue, Jorge Barrera, Mike Metatawabin, Robert Harding, and Cindy Blackstock, the report is a concise summary of the recent patterns in media coverage of Aboriginal issues.

The study shows a 29 per cent increase in media coverage of Aboriginal issues from 2010/11 to 2011/12, and a 61 per cent increase from 2011/12 to 2012/13. Media stories focused primarily on the Attawapiskat housing crisis and the Idle No More Movement.

As coverage of Aboriginal actions and protests increased, media coverage that was negative in tone also increased: from 28 per cent in 2010/11 to 33 per cent in 2011/12 to 39 per cent in 2012/13. The study reports that "the majority of stories that portrayed Aboriginal people in negative light stemmed from editorials and opinion columns." The issue of negative bias is not a function of reporters reporting fact-based news from communities - one expert consulted in the report encouraged more reporting, rather than less. Rather, the report shows that it is opinion writing and commentary discussing challenges Aboriginal communities face that tends to cast their issues in a more negative light - thus influencing the coverage as a whole.

Based on the study results and expert analysis, the report proposes four practical recommendations for improving relationships between mainstream media and Aboriginal people, and for improving the quality of media coverage overall. 

The report suggests that journalism schools prioritize teaching ethical and effective reporting on Aboriginal issues. It invites journalists to foster deeper relationships with Aboriginal people and communities. It encourages media organizations to make an effort to create more opportunities for Aboriginal people to work in media. And it recommends that media coverage of Aboriginal issues should broaden its scope beyond crisis.

Journalists for Human Rights commissioned the study and report to inform its new Northern Ontario Initiative.

The Initiative will create greater awareness of Aboriginal issues in Ontario by improving the quality and quantity of news coverage focusing on Aboriginal issues. The Initiative targets training 30 Aboriginal people living in remote reserve communities, to produce and sell radio and print news stories about their communities, and will develop positive relationships between the media and Aboriginal communities in Thunder Bay. The project will also host a workshop series in Thunder Bay for Aboriginal people and journalists that will focus on improved media coverage of Aboriginal issues in the city.

Buried Voices: Media Coverage of Aboriginal Issues in Ontario can be found here.

Notes for Editors:

Journalists for Human Rights ( is Canada's leading media development organization. JHR helps journalists build their capacity to report ethically and effectively on human rights and governance issues in their communities. Since 2002, JHR has trained over 12,000 journalists whose stories have reached over 50 million people.

JHR currently has projects in Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Tanzania, and Northern Ontario.

SOURCE: jhr (Journalists for Human Rights)

For further information:

please contact Claire Hastings, JHR's Director of Community Engagement at, 416 413 0240 ext. 206

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