By NILS JOHAN HEATTA
If we can make the Indigenous groups/TV-channels we belong to all over the world to be viewed by ourselves as a big “us”, then we can reach bigger audiences, be more powerful as a group, and build our self esteem as peoples.
~ Nils Johan Heatta
The Sámi Broadcasters are developed in a varied degree in the four countries inhabited by the Sámi people. In Russia it is non-existing, while in Norway, Sweden, and Finland it is organized under the national broadcasters and of varied size.
What makes the Sámi broadcasters in the three countries strong is the collaboration and sharing of content. Not only is it cost-efficient, but it also makes us stronger in our role as Indigenous broadcasters, and in what we aim to do. This is the same idea as WITBN’s collaboration.
NRK Sápmi started its regular radio broadcasts as far back as 1946. In 1985, when I became head of NRK Sápmi we had only 34 employees and we broadcasted only 329 hours of radio per year. At that time we didn’t have regular TV-broadcasts. But our long term goals were much bigger. In our long term strategy (Heatta 1990) it was stated that NRK Sámi Radio (the former name of NRK Sápmi) should be a mini version of The Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation, meaning that the Sámi people
should get the same, broad supply of media content from NRK Sápmi, as the majority gets from The NRK. It was also stated that NRK Sámi Radio should get its own radio and TV channel, and expand its supply in all the channels that existed on the time.
Now we can proudly say that we have partly reached many of our goals.
NRK Sápmi now has 103 employees (NRK Sápmi is the Norwegian part of the Sámi broadcasters network and is by far the biggest), we broadcast 1,785 hours of radio, 223 hours of TV, and we got our own TV-news, exactly a decade a go on Aug. 19, 2001. But we are not quite satisfied yet; a TV channel and a round-the-clock Sámi radio channel remain unfulfilled.
That’s why at the end of August and mandated by the general director of the NRK, we are proposing a Sámi, 24 hours, web-TV channel, which – if supported – should have its first broadcast around 2012/2013.
The Norwegian government and NRK have a positive attitude toward the Sámi and Sámi broadcasting, so we should have all the opportunities. But with a small Sámis population and demand for Sámi professionals in many areas, it is hard to find Sámi media professionals. This leads to not having enough manpower to produce programs that we would otherwise have received funding for.
While we may soon have the platform to deliver our content to the Sámi people, we face challenges recruiting staff to maintain the quantity, quality, and distribution of our content to the rest of the society and the rest of the world. But that’s also where the WITBN-collaboration comes in.
How WITBN Helps?
What is the uniqueness of Indigenous media, compared to others? One thing is that “it’s just us”, we are it. We are the only Indigenous broadcaster in our country, which makes our existence even more important. But what makes us different from the others?
The role of the Sámi broadcasters in the three countries where we are established is multifaceted:
- Language and culture preservation, and development;
- Investigative journalism both in our own society and in the majority society;
- Making sure that the Sámi views are being told;
- Contemporary history writing;
- and having channels where we can show our existence, are all a part of it.
The Indigenous media also has partly the same role as mainstream media:
- To control that important parts of the society function as they should;
- That money is spent wisely;
- and that all the important parts of a story are being told.
Not only does that mean we have to have reporters with the abilities to dig up stories that are hidden, but that we also have to have the proper channels to distribute the content—because the power lies in the viewers. And that is why we have to help each other to distribute our stories to the world also through the WITBN collaboration.
Have We Made An Impact?
Hans Kristian Amundsen, the former chief editor of the biggest newspaper of Northern Norway, says “(NRK Sámi Radio) binds together people in three countries and three channels, each day of the year. And NRK Sámi Radio succeeds. Sámi Radio means more for the Sámi language, culture and identity than the Sámi Parliament. It’s relevant to ask what the Sámi community would have been without NRK Sámi Radio? The answer is pretty brutal, a poorer people and probably a dying culture.... If I had to choose between NRK Sámi Radio and the Sámi Parliament, I would have kept the Sámi Radio. Undoubted.” (The quote was translated from Norweigian.)
The 2011 Nordic Sámi survey also shows that NRK Sápmi is considered the main contributor of Sámi media content to the Sámi people. But what’s perhaps surprising, is that it also shows the Sámi people want NRK Sápmi to bring its media content to the majority; in other words, teach them Sámi issues and tell them the Sámi views.
The present role of the Sámi TV and radio-stations is to give our main audience, the Sámi people, the same supply of media content (in Sámi language and from Sámi perspective) as the majority gets from the mainstream media. The vision of NRK Sápmi states that we should “make Sámi people want to be Sámi”. One of the roles media has is to define who “is”, in other words, it defines which persons and groups are considered to be important in society and which should be listened to. In short, the media draws the picture of who exists and which groups and issues the audience should pay attention to. That is where we have a role in the dissemination of media content both to the Sámi people and to a secondary audience: the majority.
Everyone who has ever watched sports on TV, media coverage of wars, or conflict between groups, where the reporters can be defined as a part of one of the two groups, knows that this coverage seldom can be called objective journalism (in sports it’s not even the goal). That is partly because people define themselves as group members and get their self esteem from the groups they belong to.
It is important to pay attention to this phenomenon especially when it comes to media coverage of Indigenous issues, because these issues could be – and most likely will be – subject to “us and them” mentality, mainly because the Indigenous peoples are “the others” for the reporters with white, majority background. This can be invisible, because “all” the other TV and radio channels cover the news from the same perspective. The only ones that have the role of giving insight to the other perspective, and telling the Indigenous view, are the Indigenous media.
That is why we are important: We tell our story, both to make the majority know our views on issues that are especially important to us, but also to let individuals in the Indigenous community know that there are others who have the same views as them. Sharing our stories also lets the world and ourselves know that we exist as peoples, and that we want to tell our views and have a say. By building our self esteem as “us” also makes us “want to be Sámi”.
This is even more important when looking at the big picture as Indigenous TV-channels throughout the world: If we can make the Indigenous groups/TV-channels we belong to all over the world to be viewed by ourselves as a big “us”, then we can both reach bigger audiences, be more powerful as a group, and build our self esteem as peoples.
Nils Johan Heatta is the Director of NRK Sápmi. Heatta has worked as sound and video engineer. He has been director for the Sámi Broadcasting in Norway since 1985. NRK Sápmi is a part of the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK). As director for the Sámi division he is automatically member of the management of the NRK company and is dealing with journalistic and technical subjects.
Heatta has been active in the collaboration between the Sámi radio and TV stations in Finland, Sweden, and Norway. He has been central in establishing the daily Sámi TV news program which is broadcasted in the three countries. In 1998 Heatta was asked to help the Russian Sámi to get their own radio station and in 2000 Heatta initiated a project to restart Sámi radio broadcasts on the Kola Peninsula. The station in Russia started their broadcasts on Dec. 31, 2003.
For the first time in Input’s history, Heatta prepared and accomplished an Indigenous session at Input 2005 in San Francisco. Heatta also took initiatives for closer collaboration between Indigenous broadcasters all over the world to bring Indigenous societies and subjects into light.
Nils Johan Heatta is born in Guovdageaidnu (Kautokeino) in Sápmi in 1954. He is now living in Guovdageaidnu