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The View From Here: The Challenges for Ukrainian Media in Canada

Apr 25, 2017 | Featured, The View From Here - Walter Kish

Volodymyr Kish.

The Ukrainian media in Canada has certainly seen better days. When you count up the number of Ukrainian newspapers, magazines, radio and TV programs that used to exist across this land during the course of the past century, and look at how many are still in existence, one cannot help but be somewhat saddened at the steep decline. There are now more people than ever of Ukrainian descent living in Canada, yet the number that avail themselves of any form of Ukrainian media, is lower than it has ever been.

Assimilation into the Canadian mainstream is obviously a prime cause of this. Of the 1.2 million Canadians that acknowledge a Ukrainian ancestry, probably not more than 10% are still active in some identifiable way in the Ukrainian community. As for the rest, their “Ukrainian-ness” only exhibits itself in their affinity for Ukrainian cuisine, appreciation as spectators for certain aspects of Ukrainian culture, and occasional political or financial support for Ukrainian causes. A lot of this, no doubt, has to do with the fact that very few of them are capable of reading, writing or speaking the Ukrainian language.

The Ukrainian media channels that are still functioning have another big challenge when it comes to satisfying the interests of their potential audiences, and that is fragmentation. There is not one homogenous Ukrainian community or “hromada” out there. There are some very distinct categories of Ukrainians out there with very different preferences in terms of the kind of content they are looking for.

Those familiar with the history of Ukrainian immigration to Canada, know that there have been four primary waves. The First Wave consisted of the early pioneers that came to Canada prior to World War I. The Second Wavers were those that came between the two World Wars. The Third Wave were the refugees and DP camp inmates that came after the Second World War, and lastly, the Fourth Wave were the ones that came to Canada in the past several decades after the Soviet Union disintegrated. Each wave had a distinct character in terms of the immigrants’ socio-economic status, education, cultural awareness and political bent. Each wave spawned a large number of newspapers, publications, radio programs and in the latter part of the last century, TV programs. These catered to and largely reflected the character of the wave that created them.

There are hardly any members still alive from the First and Second waves, and understandably, most of the media they created have disappeared as well. The Third Wave was undoubtedly the most productive from a cultural, educational and communications perspective, yet as most of the members of this group died off, most of what they created died off as well. The two primary organizations behind most of their activities, the Ukrainian National Federation and the League of Ukrainian Canadians, are still around but have shrunk significantly from their peaks in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Their two respective newspapers, The New Pathway (Noviy Shliakh) and Echo (Homin) have followed suit and the number of subscribers which once used to number in the many tens of thousands, are now down to a few thousand each. Echo (Homin) is still primarily a strongly nationalist and mostly political publication published almost entirely in the Ukrainian language, while The New Pathway has diversified into becoming a more broad-based community paper that also strives to be bilingual (English and Ukrainian). There is also still an independent paper The Ukrainian Weekly, which is also bilingual, but primarily focuses on the Ukrainian community in Western Canada.

The problem that all these papers as well as the radio and TV programs face, is the silos to be found in the Ukrainian community in Canada. The older Third Wavers still around are remain strongly nationalistic in their politics and communicate mostly in Ukrainian. Their first-generation descendants are still somewhat attached to the Ukrainian community, but no longer have fluency in the language or necessarily identify as strongly with the politics or ideology of their parents. The third, fourth and fifth generation descendants of the original Ukrainian immigrants have almost completely lost their Ukrainian language capability, and are far more Canadian in their culture and politics. Their interest in things Ukrainian is more peripheral. The last major group of note are the Fourth Wavers that have come to Canada since 1991. Their politics, values and cultural awareness was shaped either by their Soviet upbringing or the political chaos and the oligarchic system that has dominated Ukraine since it became independent. By and large, they have not integrated easily into the existing Ukrainian community in Canada. Like the preceding waves, they have created their own publications (e.g. MEEST), which better reflects their views on things Ukrainian.

With this kind of audience fragmentation, it is hard for any traditional media channel to cater to all of them, and it would be safe to say, that very few if any of them can do so profitably. The only channels that are growing rapidly, are the social media ones on the Internet. That phenomenon is worthy of separate treatment, and I will do so in a future column.

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