Rapidly changing immigration to Vancouver is pushing the city’s Chinese-language media to shift their previously Hong Kong-centric politics coverage for a more conservative, pro-China Mandarin-speaking audience.
Coming from different locations with disparate government structures, the difference in political views between the existing Cantonese-speaking audience, mostly from Hong Kong, and the rising Mandarin audience from mainland China, is particularly noteworthy.
“We found that audience from mainland China were averse to some of our coverage relating to Chinese-Hong Kong issues, which generally leaned towards the Hong Kongese perspective”, said Victor Ho, Editor-in-chief of Sing Tao Daily, one of the largest Chinese newspapers in Vancouver founded by Hong Kongese immigrants.
“The media needs to consider the different ways communities look at an issue,” adds Bhupinder S. Hundal, manager at Omni TV.
Adapting their content is just one of the changes that the local Chinese media have had to make because of the differing perspectives between their Mandarin and Cantonese audience.
The population of Mandarin-speaking immigrants in Vancouver has increased 43 per cent in the last 10 years, while the Cantonese population stayed steady.
This resulted in local media adding Mandarin-language publications, TV and radio channels to their line-up, since the strong local media has had to shift from its former predominantly Cantonese-speaking audience – which was the legacy of decades of immigration to the city from Hong Kong and south China.
“There is definitely a shift happening. The Mandarin audience has a lot of potential. If we want to grow, we need to attract this audience,” said Joseph Chan, President of Fairchild Media Group.
Besides just the different takes they have on politics, owing to their cultural and political backgrounds, new immigrants from mainland China have very different media preferences compared to the old Cantonese immigrants .
“As opposed to established Cantonese readers who likes to read daily news on newspaper, new Mandarin immigrants likes to read educational and entertaining content like stories about new immigrants and information on education, finance, lifestyle, etc,” said Xiao Jun Zhang, chief editor of Mandarin newspaper, The Canadian City Post.
While traditional characters can still be read and understood by many mainland Chinese immigrants, owing to the fact that both Cantonese and Chinese share the Chinese alphabet, Mandarin speakers generally prefer to read simplified characters.
“Cantonese immigrants like to read traditional Chinese but immigrants from mainland China prefer simplified Chinese,” says Ho.
The Chinese media are faced with the challenge of adapting to all these changes in their audience while keeping their existing Cantonese audience.
A changing landscape
The 2011 census showed that 131,770 people in the Lower Mainland, about 17 per cent of Vancouver’s total Chinese immigrant population, was born in mainland China.
According to census data on mother tongues, Mandarin speakers have doubled between the years 2001 and 2011.
That shifting immigration pattern prompted Chinese media to start increasing their Mandarin coverage several years ago.
“We’ve seen more and more Mandarin media in Vancouver in the last a couple of years,” said Carol Wang, broadcaster of Global National Mandarin, a Mandarin news program launched by Shaw in January 2014.
In 2006, Omni TV started its own Mandarin news program. In 2007, The largest two Cantonese newspapers Sing Tao Daily and Ming Pao both added Mandarin newspapers to their rosters.
In 2013, Fairchild added a new HD Mandarin channel to its line-up. It’s clear that the Chinese media in Vancouver are all trying to get a slice of the larger market of immigrants coming from mainland China.
Chan on attracting a growing Mandarin audience (0’37’’)
A tough battle
But it hasn’t been enough just to broadcast news in a different language or publish articles more focused on mainland China.
“Despite the rapidly growing population, we are fighting a tough battle to attract immigrants from mainland China,” said Chan.
News and entertainment content from mainland China is easily available online for free, albeit most of it being illegal. The Mandarin paid media in Vancouver is finding it hard to compete with the free, on-demand online content.
Hang Zhang moved to Vancouver from Shenzhen in 2005. Both of her parents are still in China. In her free time, Hang Zhang likes to watch dramas and read news on Chinese websites.
“I don’t watch TV here. On Chinese websites, I can find everything for free. I can also watch Chinese programs on YouTube,” said Zhang.
While there are 100,000 subscribers on the Cantonese channels on Fairchild TV, the Mandarin channels only have 20,000 subscribers.
To transform the large Mandarin market into a revenue source, Mandarin newspapers and radio programs – both free media platforms – are surviving through ad-generated revenue.
“Our biggest sources of revenue are ads. Our ultimate goal is to become the platform where advertisers come for the Mandarin-speaking market since that is our audience base,” says James Ho, president of Chinese radio channel CHMB AM 1320.
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Local programming is key
Ho believes good local programming is the key to long-term survival, and the best way to do that is to provide quality content.
Hundal added: “To produce good local programming, the media needs to determine how to provide content that is relevant to this community.”
“People are looking for greater depth, greater thought and tangible information people can rely on. The main focus will be to provide analysis and engage conversation.”
Ho on the importance of local content (0’35’’)
Alice Zhao, a journalist at West Canada Weekly, thinks relevancy is not enough. “Chinese newspapers should be the bridge that connects Chinese immigrants and local community, helping them understand each other better.”
Queenie Choo, CEO of S.U.C.C.E.S.S., stresses the importance of having integrated ethnic communities. “Because we are so very culturally diverse in the Lower Mainland, whatever language or media we adapt, we need to be diverse and aware of the culturally diverse population and their community needs.”
Vancouver is well on its way to building the kind of community Choo talks about. The struggle to get the rapidly growing audience of Mandarin speakers interested in local media might be an uphill battle, but the industry appears to be working together to achieve just that.
As Hundal puts it, “The more people get settled here the more they will shift their attention to local news. But again, these kinds of things take quite a bit of time.”