Framing Environmental Inequity in Canada

by Leith Deacon

Framing Environmental Inequity in CanadaThere is a considerable amount of academic literature showing inequities – that blacks, Hispanics, and low-income groups are disproportionately exposed to pollution. Often conceptually split into two categories, research on environmental equity commonly focuses on outcome equity (spatial and social distribution of pollution and people) and/or procedural equity (practices that support or mitigate against public participation in decisions that have a pollution component).

Yet there are certain aspects of equity that do not fit into these two conceptual separations. The influence of the news media as a transformative force in society has been well documented. The media have been portrayed pejoratively as both active claims makers trying to set public agendas and as more passive, but nevertheless powerful, gatekeepers of information. Even in an area of increased democratization of information through Internet blogs and other websites, the traditional media remain the primary source of information for the public and have a significant influence on our perception and knowledge of topics ranging from health to technology to the environment. It is in this guise that the media, and those who are responsible for determining its content and coverage, potentially shape our perception of what is socially important and, in turn, what is considered news.

In our book chapter, Framing Environmental Inequity in Canada: A Content Analysis of Daily Print News Media, Jamie Baxter and I propose that environmental inequities extend into media coverage of pollution exposure. By using a traditional content analysis methodology of Canada’s two daily national newspapers, we retract the traditional lens used to examine environmental equity in an attempt to gain a better understanding of patterns of localized environmental conflict over pollution hazards across Canada.  We suspect there is a substantial disconnect between the stories that are featured, or more often not featured, in the news media related to environmental inequity and the on-the-ground realities.

Article:  Deacon, L., Baxter, J. 2009. Framing Environmental Inequity in Canada: A Content Analysis of Daily Print News Media in Haluza-Delay, R., J. Agyeman, P. Cole, P. O’Riley, (Eds.), Speaking for Ourselves: Environmental Justice in Canada, Vancouver: UBC Press, 181-202.