Smaller-market radio stations offer opportunities for immigrants
Opening Vistas program places interns at 11 outlets
Brian Morton, Vancouver SunPublished: Saturday, April 26, 2008
Honore Gbedze believes a new internship program launched by Vista Radio is just what he needs to get his Canadian broadcasting career into high gear.
The 35-year-old Gbedze, who came to Canada from Togo in 2000, is the first landed immigrant to take part in a program that will place foreign-trained broadcasters in western Canadian radio stations owned by Vista, which specializes in smaller market stations.
"My goal is to start my own radio station in Vancouver," Gbedze said in an interview. "This [the Vista internship] is a very good opportunity. I want to see how a radio station works overall, the production, how the news is gathered, and how the sales system works.
"This type of idea is very important for the future growth of our country."
According to a release, the new internships will help broadcasters -- many of whom left their homelands as a result of persecution -- gain paid employment and Canadian newsroom experience. As a bonus, the Vista stations hope to benefit from newly trained reporters, producers and technicians.
The program, dubbed Opening Vistas, will place interns at 11 of Vista's 22 stations including Duncan, Courtenay, Campbell River, Williams Lake, Quesnel, Prince George, Smithers, Nelson and Castlegar in B.C.; as well as Grand Prairie, Alta., and Yellowknife, N.W.T.
The program is being developed in partnership with Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, Journalists in Exile, and SUCCESS, a social service provider for new Canadians.
"To be able to help someone fulfil their ambition to work in the area of their choice is really satisfying," Vista Radio CEO Margot Micallef said in an interview. "We want to be leaders in the broadcast industry in Canada, so we're always looking for ways to set an example. Diversity is a big factor in building a strong company."
Micallef said there are a lot of well-trained broadcasters that Canada's not benefiting from. "These are people from all walks of the broadcast industry, not just on-air [people]. We decided to tap into this resource."
Micallef estimates Vista will take in about six people this year and that interns will make about $12 an hour -- paid by Vista -- for a 14-week program that includes training in such areas as articulation, on-air communication and how to address an audience.
All interns will work in English as Vista is a mainstream English-language broadcast company. Internships will focus on journalism, on-air announcing, engineering, sales, and office/administration.
Gbedze, who is trained as a chef and is now working at the Hilton Hotel Metrotown in Burnaby, worked in broadcasting in his native Togo doing studio work and reporting.
Since coming to Canada he has kept up his radio work by starting a one-hour, weekly program with Fairchild Radio in 2006 called La Palabre, aimed at the region's 30,000-strong African Canadian community. Gbedze, who will do his Vista internship in Courtenay, also publishes the Afro News in Vancouver.
Gbedze, who puts up his own money for La Palabre, hopes to start his own 24-hour radio station catering to the African Canadian community. "We have a lot of immigrant Africans coming to the U.S. and Canada, [but] we don't have any bridges of information. Not everyone listens to the mainstream stations."
Kapila Ratnayake is a technical engineer from Sri Lanka who now works for Vista in Prince George.
The 51-year-old Ratnayake, who arrived in Canada in 2001 and has been working for Vista for three years, said in an interview that he was lucky to find work in his chosen profession after coming to Canada, but that he knows many others who can't.
"I found a job in my field, but generally it's really hard to find the same job. For me, the first few months were so hard."
Ratnayake said that when he arrived in Canada, he sent his resume to "all the radio stations in Canada," and initially worked in Toronto before moving to Prince George with Vista.
"I like it here better than congested cities. And I like my work."
Ratnayake said he would have jumped at a chance for a Vista internship when he arrived in Canada. "If you have a chance or an opportunity to get experience, it's very helpful. I know some [immigrants] in Canada who can't find radio jobs."
Jason Mann, Vista's vice-president for programming, is closely involved in the company's diversity and internship program.
He said in an interview Vista is now trying to get the word out about the internship program and that Ratnayake is the type of person the company hopes to attract.
"Initially, we thought it should be centred around foreign-trained journalists, but we now look at news directors, engineers, any position in the company. We want to tap into a new employment pool and work toward the CRTC mandate of creating diversity in the workplace. We want to mirror the community we serve."
Mann said interns will have to be reasonably proficient in English, although Vista will look at helping them upgrade their language skills through enrolment in English as a Second Language programs. "I think that [English language skills] will present a bit of a challenge, but it's one that's worth overcoming."
Mann also said one of his goals is to increase aboriginal representation at Vista's broadcast operations (four first nations broadcasters now hold key on-air positions in their respective communities).
SUCCESS CEO Tung Chan said in a statement that the Vista program will help immigrant broadcasters. "New Canadians are highly skilled, but often face challenges in finding work. This internship program will assist them in getting back to their fields of expertise sooner. It will also contribute to the easing of B.C.'s labour shortage."
For more information about Vista's internship program, call 250-334-2421.
© The Vancouver Sun 2008
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CanWest Interactive, a division of CanWest MediaWorks Publications, Inc.. All rights reserved.