The Toronto Star, June 4, 2013
By: San Grewal Urban Affairs Reporter, Published on Mon Jun 03 2013
Over lunch, Brampton-based newspaper journalist Satpaul Singh Johal asks if Rob Ford will retire. He’s already written one news story about the Toronto mayor’s video scandal and has just penned an analysis piece for his readers — in Punjab, India.
Every day Johal and two colleagues, who are also based in Brampton, file stories to their editors 12,000 kilometres away in the city of Jalandhar.
That’s where Daily Ajit, the world’s largest Punjabi-language newspaper, is based.
“I was the first reporter for the paper based in Canada,” says Johal, who moved to Brampton in 2001.
He is now the paper’s only national correspondent, joined by six others who cover regional news across the country. In addition to Johal, two others are based in Brampton, two in Alberta and two in B.C. Of the paper’s 30 foreign correspondents, five are based in the U.S. No other country has more than three reporters.
Canada also accounts for more online readers of Daily Ajit than any other country, including India.
“Internet access is still not too widespread in India,” Johal explains, proudly mentioning the 15,000 to 20,000 daily online readers in Ontario alone.
The paper’s large presence in Canada, home to about 1.6 million South Asians (4.8 per cent of Canada’s population) is driven by the numbers.
The newspaper employs 400 journalists in India and has an average daily circulation of 400,000 copies, almost all distributed across Punjab, where readers have a huge appetite for news across the sizeable global Punjabi diaspora. Daily Ajit is owned by the Sadhu Singh Hamdard Trust, named for the paper’s first editor after it was founded in 1942.
“People in India don’t know Rob Ford, but we get a lot of positive feedback when we do big stories wherever there’s a large Punjabi community. Punjabis are very interested in politics and other issues.”
Johal says the stories written from Canada typically fall into two categories: stories on topics such as immigration that directly affect Daily Ajit readers thinking of joining the large numbers of Indo-Canadians living here, or stories that people want to know about because they affect relatives and friends already here.
There are also features about the dozens of Punjabi-Canadian politicians and successful business people who bring pride to the community.
“And sometimes stories are more to do with India,” he says, pointing to a 2003 copy of his paper that featured a story Johal wrote explaining the pros and cons of casinos in Ontario. A colleague based in the U.S. did a sister story about casinos there.
“The Punjab government was thinking of building the very first casino. After our stories, it never did. No one there would dare even talk about a casino now.”
But it’s the immigration-related stories that get the most attention.
“We try to give people the real information about immigration rules and the reality they will face here.”
He says the Punjabi community is struggling with numerous issues on both sides of the globe.
“Immigration agents in India sell people a dream in exchange for a lot of money. We try to give them the truth.”
Stories about “runaway brides” have informed readers that the Canadian government will deport people who perpetrate marriage fraud — marrying Canadian citizens to get a visa and then divorcing shortly after.
Johal, who now has dual Canadian-Indian citizenship and lives with his young family in Brampton, said a story he wrote last week drew responses from residents here.
“We were featuring the situation for Punjabi seniors here. Many come and qualify for a pension, but their children grab it from them. Others think they will come and find a job.
“A 68-year-old man called me and said he wished he had read the story before he came. I asked why he would expect to get a job at 68. That’s what he had been told before coming. Now he’s going back.”
Johal, who covered Europe for the paper while living in Switzerland for a decade before coming to Canada, has parlayed his extensive knowledge of the Punjabi community into a regular TV gig, hosting a current affairs show for Rogers’ specialty Punjabi language station.
He says that for his newspaper, having journalists based in places like Brampton and Vancouver makes good business sense.
“No other cities in North America have the density of Punjabis like Brampton.” The city is home to about 200,000 South Asians,” he pointed out.
“People want to feel connected with the places their community lives in.”
Asked why the paper is called Ajit, Johal smiles broadly. “It means, ‘that which you cannot beat.’ That says we are always No. 1.”
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