Calgary

Calgary's news comes in many languages these days

In northeast Calgary, media in many languages is everywhere — if you're looking and listening.

People turn to multicultural media for comfort, connection and understandable stories

Gurpreet Kaur, a host at Red FM in northeast Calgary, says her show helps people make important decisions and form opinions on everything from pipelines to municipal elections. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

In northeast Calgary, multicultural media is everywhere — if you're looking and listening.

You'll see it on racks in Punjabi grocery stores in Castleridge, blasting from car stereos in Saddle Ridge and on TVs all over Taradale. Now more than ever, you can scroll and stream it on the screens of phones and devices all over the city's northeast and beyond.

The city is home to ethnic radio stations and shows, newspapers, TV programming and online sources, all aimed at established immigrants and newcomers from around the world, who now call Calgary home.

Red 106.7 FM, which stands for Reflecting Ethnic Diversity, just celebrated five years of broadcasting from the city's northeast.

"We are the lifeline of the South Asian community, especially [for those] from Pakistan, Indian, Fiji and Nepal," said Rishi Nagar, Red FM's morning show radio host and news director.

"Those from those countries understand Hindi, Punjabi and Urdu. All these languages are from the same root."

Rishi Nagar hosts the morning show on Red FM and doubles as the station's news director. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

Listeners can hear up to 20 different languages on that station alone. Its core audience includes Pakistani and Indian people but the station also caters to Filipino, Vietnamese, Arab, Afghan, Russian and Croatian communities in Calgary, to name just a few.

The station also livestreams on Facebook and YouTube.

Many people in the northeast and other communities do check in with local English mainstream media, Nagar said, but news in particular is always better understood and digested in your own language.

"We provide so much information: political, economic, social, business-related news," he said.

"In my show, we have a special 20 minute segment of Indian news and we've hired a reporter in India itself, and we also have a segment of Pakistan news with a reporter based in Pakistan."

The station provides the comfort and ease of being able to access news, music and information in a given language for many newcomers to the city. When a person arrives in a new and unfamiliar place, accessing information in an understandable way can be crucial.

"We are 411 for them. They call us for information about the women's shelter, or the seniors home or medical services," Nagar said. 

"Sometimes newcomers and newcomer organizations even visit our office. We can give them information on how to get their SIN card, health card and driving licence."

Mainstream local media in Calgary have limitations as to how they cover news from diverse ethnic communities, he said, and can't come close to matching the role diverse local media play.

'People miss their home language'

Red FM's radiothons also raise huge amounts of money for local communities and organizations in Calgary and Alberta. One event raised nearly $1 million in a day.

"Along with speaking and learning English, people miss their home language," said Gurpreet Kaur, another host at Red FM.

She said that's why the Canadian Radio-televison and Telecommunications Commission encourages radio stations to broadcast in so many languages.

"We've become the bridge," she said. "Organizations come on my show and talk about how they can help Canadian women, immigrant women, how they help families, how they help to improve their language skills, how they can help build their resumes."

'Don't want people to miss out'

Her station covers everything from health and diet advice to domestic violence and addressing regressive cultural issues. It also tackles issues of the day, such as the Trans Mountain pipeline debate, and all in Punjabi, of course.

"To be a progressive society, we have to be part of where we live. We don't want people to miss out on any information," Kaur said.

"We live in Calgary we should know what's happening in Calgary, what our city council is deciding on and how that affects us, like the 2026 Winter Olympic bid."

Kaur said Calgary's two Punjabi-speaking city councillors, George Chahal and Jyoti Gondek, help give listeners an opportunity to hear about issues directly in their own language. Both have been Red FM guests.

Many multicultural media outlets in Calgary publish and broadcast in languages from Mandarin to Urdu and Punjabi to Filipino. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

Newspapers still play a big role in Calgary's diverse communities too, with English and diverse-language publications aimed at Calgary's South Asian communities a common sight at stores and on the street in the city's northeast.

Harbans Buttar is editor-in-chief of Punjabi Akhbaar, or Punjabi News, a free bi-weekly newspaper serving Calgary's Indian communities. The paper also publishes in Edmonton and Saskatchewan.

"A lot of people only understand Punjabi. They watch CBC at home and when they see a guy in a turban on the TV,  they call me and say, 'What happened?'" Buttar said with a laugh. "So we translate the news and I put it in my newspaper."

Harbans Buttar is the editor-in-chief of the Punjabi Akhbaar newspaper, which publishes in western Canada every two weeks. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

He also livestreams local news on Facebook.

Mainstream media in Canada could do more, he said, to translate some local stories into different languages.

"When we go to the bank, Superstore, Walmart, there's usually Punjabi salespeople or staff working there," he said. "When I go to a store and they don't understand what I need, then how can they sell me something?"

Media experts agree there's definitely space for more foreign-language content in Calgary — and Canada — with some English-language media already experimenting with the concept, albeit on a tiny scale and sporadically.

"Mainstream media can broaden their reach. They can get impatient with foreign languages but I do think there's more room for that sort of thing," said Brad Clark, broadcast and journalism chair at Calgary's Mount Royal University. 

Although it sits at the opposite end of the spectrum, Clark points to the CBC's Hockey Night in Punjabi as one example of a big, foreign-language success story on a mainstream network. 

"Your language becomes kind of a touchstone. Some of it is about being informed and finding out what's going on in the world and some of it is the comfort of being ensconced in your own culture and linguistic culture," said Clark. 

"When it's a challenge to find media content from your own culture and language, then those other options outside of mainstream media become all the more valuable. And I think it only makes sense that we'll see more and more of that in the future."


Calgary: The Road Ahead is CBC Calgary's special focus on our city as it passes through the crucible of the downturn: the challenges we face, and the possible solutions as we explore what kind of Calgary we want to create. Have an idea? Email us at calgarytheroadahead@cbc.ca


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dan McGarvey

Journalist

Dan McGarvey is a mobile journalist focused on filing stories remotely for CBC Calgary’s web, radio, TV and social media platforms, using only an iPhone and mobile tech. His work is used by mobile journalism (mojo) trainers and educators around the world. Dan is focused on the city’s diverse northeast quadrant and sharing stories from under-reported communities. You can email story ideas and tips to Dan at Dan.Mcgarvey@cbc.ca.

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