This chapter has been published in June 2017 in the book “The Difficult Freedom of Speech – Nordic Voices” by the Nordic Council of Ministers
For a small indigenous people like the Sámi in Finland, totalling 10,000 people, their own media plays an important role.
Sámi media plays an important role also in the Nordic democracy. Providing Sámi people with a trustworthy information good is an essential task in the Nordic democracy. Sámi media provides news from Sámi perspectives, gives a voice to a minority in the Nordic democracy, provides factual information and serves as a cultural institution. The Sámi media adds value to the Nordic societies.
In Finland, there is only one daily Sámi-language media, Yle Sápmi. It is part of the Finnish Broadcasting Company, Yleisradio. Yle Sápmi provides content on radio, TV and internet in all three Sámi languages spoken in Finland.
On radio there are programmes for all ages. The internet and TV production is focused on news. Part of the TV production is done in cooperation with the Sámi branches of Norway’s NRK and Sweden’s SVT.
- News from Sámi perspectives
First, Sámi media provides news from Sámi perspectives. The world looks very different through Sámi eyes. The Sámi culture is a distinct culture compared to the Nordic cultures. The Sámi worldview differs from the dominant Nordic cultures.
What is news in the Sámi context differs from the Nordic context. Therefore it is important that media does not reflect only the Finnish, Swedish or Norwegian realities, structures and institutions. It is essential that the media contains also Sámi stories that reflect the Sámi way of thinking.
News from Sámi perspectives build understanding about the Sámi worldview. They also strengthen the identity of the Sámi people.
Accordingly, one of Yle Sápmi’s strategic objectives is to add value to the Finnish society by bringing Sámi perspectives to public discussion. This way, Yle Sápmi is providing the public with Sámi information in order to serve the Nordic democracy.
- Voice of the Sámi people
Second, Sámi media is able to give the Sámi people a voice in the public discussion. One of the prerequisites is that the Sámi media can exercise its freedom. This means for example getting to decide their own agenda freely.
One of the challenges for the Sámi people in Nordic countries is that the Sámi voice is not properly heard in decision-making processes, although it is required by law to negotiate with the Sámi people in matters affecting them.
The Sámi Parliaments are the official representatives of the Sámi people in Finland, Sweden and Norway. They are heard but seldom consulted properly in matters affecting the Sámi people.
Only hearing the Sámi Parliaments does not fulfil the requirements of the Free, Prior and Informed Consent, FPIC, as set out in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
Moreover, recently there have even been cases, in which the Sámi Parliament in Finland has not been heard, let alone consulted in matters affecting the Sámi people.
This is where the Sámi media comes in. Sámi journalists are able to raise issues that are significant to the indigenous Sámi people to the public discussion. In this way, Sámi media is able to provide a channel for the Sámi voice to be heard, even if the voice gets neglected in the official decision-making processes.
- Factual information about the Sámi
Third, Sámi media can also function as provider of factual information. This factual information is important to both Sámi and the majority populations in Finland, Sweden and Norway.
The significance of this is that discussion about Sámi issues should be based on facts, not on fake news or alternative facts. Factual information about the Sámi people is an essential ingredient in a constructive dialogue and a functioning Nordic democracy.
Sámi media can also expose structural issues in the discussion on Sámi matters. Journalists belonging to the majority population often choose a different framing compared to their indigenous colleagues.
Comparing the coverage of Sámi issues by both the mainstream media and the Sámi media can reveal major differences in perspective, framing and even epistemology of news
- Cultural institution
Finally, in addition to playing an important role in the Nordic democracy, Sámi media is also a significant cultural institution.
Sámi media is one of the only places where you can hear and read Sámi languages every day. Hear Sámi stories. Listen to Sámi music. Get information about the Sámi culture. Hear new Sámi-language words developed for modern phenomena. Hear archive interviews of your Sámi ancestors.
This is why Sámi media is more than just media for the Sámi people. The significance of producing and working in Sámi languages is that in doing so, all thinking starts from Sámi perspectives.
In Finland there are three Sámi languages: Northern Sámi, Inari Sámi and Skolt Sámi. Yle Sápmi provides TV, radio and internet content in all these languages. The proportion of the minority Sámi languages, Inari Sámi and Skolt Sámi, has consciously been increased over the course of the years in order to support the efforts to revitalise these languages.
Yle Sápmi is also one of the only workplaces in Finland, where Sámi languages are the daily working languages. Sámi languages carry the Sámi history, customs and worldview. By originating news in the Sámi language, the starting point is Sámi perspectives – as opposed to translating into the Sámi-languages news, that were originated in the Finnish language and from the Finnish point of view.
Content originated in the Sámi languages (and only later translated into Finnish and English) strengthens the Sámi culture. The Sámi languages contain Sámi worldview, philosophy and structures of thinking. A conscious choice to have a production strategy of ‘Sámi languages first’ strengthens the Sámi society and the Sámi culture.
Case study: Sámi National Day 2017 in media
To conclude, I will give an example about the differences between the mainstream media and the Sámi media.
The Sámi National Day is celebrated on the 6th of February every year. 2017 was a special year, as it marked the 100th jubilee of the Sámi Nordic political cooperation. The common Sámi jubilee celebrations were held in Trondheim, Norway.
On the Sámi National Day 2017, hundreds of Sámi people from Finland, Sweden, Norway and Russia were gathered in Trondheim. The opening ceremonies were on the city centre. The three presidents of the Sámi Parliaments in Finland, Norway and Sweden stood side by side and delivered their remarks. The story of Mrs. Elsa Laula Renberg, the Sámi politician who originally gathered Sámi people in Trondheim a hundred years ago, was reminisced, highlighted and celebrated.
On the Sámi National Day 2017, all eyes of the Sámi media were on the Sámi 100 year jubilee celebration in Trondheim, Norway. The three Sámi radios worked as one team and sent common daily broadcasts on the radio and online from the centre of Trondheim. The Sámi print media on the Norwegian and Swedish side of the Sámiland was filled with news and pictures from the week-long celebrations around the city of Trondheim.
One of the main Sámi news narratives arising from the Sámi jubilee week was the idea of a united Sámiland. The Sámi news coverage concentrated especially on the debate about creating a common Sámi Parliament instead of three separate Sámi Parliaments in Finland, Norway and Sweden. Combining the three Sámi broadcasters together as one Sámi media was also discussed.
Looking at the Finnish mainstream media coverage on the Sámi National Day 2017 reveals a very different picture. As the Sámi media was busy covering the common Sámi jubilee celebrations in Trondheim, the Finnish mainstream media hardly mentioned the Trondheim festivities. No Finnish journalists were sent to Trondheim to cover the event.
Instead, Finnish journalists were gathered in Inari on the Sámi National Day 2017. The village of Inari is the centre of the Sámi home region in Finland. The eyes of the Finnish media were on the president of Finland Sauli Niinistö. The reason was that president Niinistö started his tour marking Finland’s 100 year jubilee in Inari. Finland will celebrate her 100th independence day in December 2017.
So instead of Trondheim, where the Sámi from four countries were gathered, the Finnish-language news stories of the Finnish Broadcasting Company, Yleisradio, as well as of Lapland’s only provincial newspaper Lapin Kansa, were centred around president Niinistö’s visit in Inari. This example reveals a major difference in perspectives.
The Sámi media prioritised the common Sámi jubilee celebrations in Trondheim. The Sámi perspective could be seen in the way that the Sámi media emphasised the cross-border nature of the 100 year Sámi jubilee. The news narratives focused on the significance of working together as one people across the borders of the Nordic nation states and Russia.
People following the Sámi media coverage on the Sámi National Day 2017 also learnt a lot. There was information about the Sámi history across the borders as well as the contemporary Sámi society.
The Sámi National Day example illustrates the importance of the Sámi media. They are providers of a public Sámi information which is an essential ingredient in the Nordic democracies.
About the author:
Pirita Näkkäläjärvi is an MSc Media and Communications student at London School of Economics. She is working on her MSc Dissertation on the freedom of speech of the indigenous people Sámi in Finland.
Pirita Näkkäläjärvi is on study leave from the position of the Head of Yle Sápmi in Finland. Before Yleisradio she made a business career at Metso, Booz & Company, Nokia and Merrill Lynch. Miss Näkkäläjärvi holds an MSc in Economics from Helsinki School of Economics, Finland.