It is an uphill struggle anywhere in the world for media outlets that cater to a small population of around 100,000 souls, but for the Sami media there is an even bigger challenge: the Sami are dispersed between three of the Nordic countries and speak at least six quite different dialogues.
“It is important for us Sami to have media in our own language,” says Kari Lisbeth Hermansen, editor of the newspaper Avvir.
In Norway, where perhaps half of the Sami population lives, two main Northern Sami language newspapers merged into a new paper, Ávvir which published its first issue on 6 February, 2008, Sami National Day. Circulation of the daily newspaper is around 1,200 copies.
“There has been a big increase in the last ten years in Sami language journalism, now we have two Sami newspapers and a considerable increase in broadcasting as well,” says Hermansen.
The National Broadcasting Corporations of Sweden, Finland and Norway offer shared transmissions on television with news and topical programmes on a daily basis. The broadcasts are 15 minutes long and in addition there are radio broadcasts and internet news services in Sámi languages.
“For me personally it is important to hear news in my own language,” says Berit Nystad, acting news editor at NRK Sapmi, Norwegian TV and Radio in the Sami language. “It brings the news much closer.”
Hermansen points out that not only is the Sami language media a forum to describe and analyse events in Sami society from their own perspective but also “Sami media is an important venue for the development and preservation of the Sami language”.
Most Sami media have both Sami and local language (Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish) versions of their stories.
A mostly Norwegian language Sámi newspaper, Ságat has a larger circulation (2,700) than its Sami language counterpart Avvir.
It is the same story across the border in Sweden where the decades old Samefolket newspaper (The Sámi People) is mainly published in Swedish, albeit with some articles in Norwegian and Northern Sámi.
”There are two reason”, says Nystad. ”In the first place not all Sami speak the Sami language. Secondly, it is to inform people outside the Sami community what is going on there.”
”In addition we focus on news from, and about, other indigenous people, because we think mutual support and exchange of knowledge is important.”
On the website of Norwegian NRK Sapmi or Sami service, on 6 August, the biggest story focused on the accusations of Anders Opdahl, the editor-in-chief of Norwegian language Nordlys, a leading regional newspaper claiming that the Sami Parliament is “boring”.
These accusations, not surprisingly, were denied by the Deputy-Speaker of the Sami Parliament, Laila Susanne Vars. “It is unfortunate that Sami child care, education and language politics are too unsexy for his newspaper.”
Some news, however, has an international dimension. Norwegian mainstream media picked up a story this summer on the Sami’s strong reaction to news about the Sami national dress being sold on a Texas website as ”Blue Lapland Scandinavian funny Halloween costume”.
The Sami are of course just as used to stereotypical reporting of weird reindeer herders in the mythical Lapland, as the Inuits are of igloos and polar bear hugging. The Sami can certainly live with being the mythical home of Father Christmas and his reindeers, but being sold on online in the same category as vampires, witches and trolls for Halloween seems to be another matter, however ”sexy” that story is for outside media.
The Brussels based United Nations Regional Information Centre for Western Europe - UNRIC provides information on UN activities to the countries of the region. It also provides liaison with institutions of the European Union in the field of information. Its outreach activities extend to all segments of society and joint campaigns, projects and events are organized with partners including the EU, governments, the media, NGOs, schools and local authorities.
United Nations Regional Information Centre for Western Europe (UNRIC Brussels)
Residence Palace, Rue de la Loi/Wetstraat 155, Block C2,7th and 8th floor, Brussels 1040, Belgium
Tel.: +32 2 788 8484 / Fax: 32 2 788 8485