Sami Culture and Media

By Peterson, Charles | Scandinavian Studies, Summer 2003 | Go to article overview

Sami Culture and Media


Peterson, Charles, Scandinavian Studies


ISSUES OF ETHNICITY AND RACE in the United States often dominate the national consciousness. Americans are generally aware that issues of ethnicity and race matter in our culture. The institution known as the mass media is one of several ideological institutions in society conveying values from one generation to the next. Values are powerful words in languages, which motivate actual behavior by individuals (Hall 1986). In the complex area of issues related to ethnicity and race, the more traditional ideological institutions of family, school, and the church are joined by the media in the recreation of prejudice and discrimination. Media and the other ideological institutions share also in the creation and recreation of the values of tolerance and equality.

One way of analyzing the media's role in conveying values is to analyze the content of mass media by looking at the representation of Blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans in radio, television, film, and music in the United States (Croteau and Hoynes 1997, 133-61). The conclusions in mass media research are three:

1. The representations of ethnic minorities in the media in the United States do not accurately reflect the actual social relations. For example, the frequency of the appearance of minorities in the media is less than their actual representation in the population. Ethnic minorities are portrayed as criminals or victims at a higher frequency that their actual representation in the population.

2. Minorities are underrepresented on the boards of directors of media corporations and underrepresented in production roles.

3. Issues relevant to minorities are underrepresented in media content.

As a result of the misrepresentation of ethnic minorities in us media, the dominant culture is misinformed about ethnic minorities, is prejudiced against ethnic minorities, and discriminates against minorities by denying access to valued social resources such as jobs, housing, education, health care, etc. Lacking authentic role models in the mass media, members of minority groups surfer a loss of self-respect, loss of cultural values, and, in some cases, loss of language.

There have been some improvements in the United States during the past fifty years in regard to civil rights and representation in the mass media. Although Nat King Cole could not find a place in network television in the 1950S, Bill Cosby broke a racial barrier on network television in the show "I Spy" by playing a role that did not require a black actor. Many gains in the 1960s and '70s disappeared in the 1980s in the face of increased commercial pressures, corporate demands for profit, and "deregulation" of broadcasting. At least most major markets and national news broadcasts include minorities either as anchors or correspondents. Prejudice and discrimination are by no means eliminated in the United States. Witness the recent gruesome murders in Wyoming and Texas based on race or sexual orientation.

Similar issues of representation, prejudice, and discrimination face Sami culture and media in Norway. The topic can easily be expanded to include Sami culture and media in Sweden and Finland or all minority groups in all of Scandinavia. To understand Scandinavian culture, it helps to look to the border regions between dominant Scandinavian culture and the indigenous Sami culture. One gets a more complete understanding of Scandinavia by looking also at minority cultures. In this paper I will discuss three major issues related to Sami culture and media:

1. The dominant Norwegian culture knows little about Sami Culture.

2. Sami are underrepresented in national Norwegian media content and production.

3. Sami culture and media lack human resources necessary for development.

The author collected data on Sami culture and media during a period of five years when he lived in Norway (1988-93), a research trip to Sapmi in December 1997, and from the "Seminar on Sami Media" held at Rovaniemi University in September 1998. …

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