Minority press in a changing reality

The media Industry is facing a major crisis internationally as people are loosing interest in the traditional newspaper format. The media institutions are doing their best to adapt to this protean reality. Notably by combining online efforts with various social media.

In Norway, this development is getting critical as well. Aftenposten, for example, has a social media desk, and is actually purchasing viewings from Facebook to be more visible on that platform. In the media one sees more and more article writing that is in fact disguised advertisement. This has come to be called " content management" by those in business.

This "content management" can for example feature authentic journalists writing about life style themes, food or even political matters. Yet somewhat hidden the whole article is commissioned by a commercial company. On a similar note Pop musicians employ a PR-agency to "fix" a full page feature or interview. The law says content managing should be clearly marked as advertising. But alas, sometimes this is "forgotten".

Many journalists and the Norwegian press association are rightly worrying about these developments. It is questioned how this affects the integrity, impartiality and credibility of journalism. Not to speak of what happens to the factual and professional quality of journalism.

However, if the general media are suffering, there is not much talk about the minority media in this troubled situation. Most minority media are beneficiaries of support from the Government funds. And one can safely say that without minority media in Norway, the mainstream media will suffer greatly. Just think of papers like Utrop, which is cited now and again by mainstream media and has definitely gone online. Utrop is one of those media that tries to include and highlight minority groups and individuals. This is highly important and gives minorities a channel to speak their minds.

But just as important as these multi-cultural publications, are publications aimed at specific minority groups. It is essential to integration that minorities experience that their language and cultural background are encouraged, welcomed and given platforms in Norway. This is of course no obstacle to learning Norwegian language and society, as much research shows.

In 2016 we saw the first Minority press conference held in Norway. However, this initiative has ot been followed up, and there is a dire need for more dialogue and coordination with government agencies, main stream media and partners. Back in 2016 the goal fro the conference was to discuss the road ahead for minorities media after the so called press support was cut for minority publications. Fritt Ord was a main organizer of the event. Through the different speeches it became apparent that the situation for minority newspapers and magazines have worsened after the present government came into office. Director of Fritt Ord Knut Olav Åmås also leads the government´s special committee for pluralism in the media. He boldly stated that many minority publications are not doing a good enough job, specifically concerning reaping profits from their users. He proposed that one reason minority media were unsuccessful were that they have remained too long in the paper format and should instead be more offensive online. He added that minority media should do more to "realize their market potential" as they have large target groups in Norway.

But is this criticism entirely fair? It somewhat conceals the fact that all newspapers in Norway receive public support. It may be somewhat unrealistic to expect that minorities should be able to take care of themselves from a market-logical standpoint.

In this context, the conference also featured among others a speech by former editor of the former Norwegian based newspaper Bosnisk post. Being the only regular newspaper in serbo-croatian aimed at bosnians, the paper quickly became a main news source for bosnians in Norway. And also in other Scandinavian countries. Unfortunately, the paper had to shut down last year. Instrumental in this were the cut downs and reforms of the grants and cancelling of the press support by the current government. In essence, Bosnisk Post could earlier receive the so called press support given to regular newspapers. But over the years the support was gradually reduced, and the paper was struggling. Finally, the new system centralized all support to minority publications. Thereby making it impossible to receive "press support" as other Norwegian newspapers still do receive.

The trouble with the new support mechanism for minority publications is that it has a far lower maximum grant than the press support. In consequence minority newspapers can only get drastically reduced financial support. This is a regrettable development. And it can be argued that the reform can lead to marginalization of ethnic minorities, if nothing is done about it. If we assume that bigger minority groups in Norway like Punjabi, Somali or Tigrinja-speaking want to start a newspaper in their own language, this will be much harder under the present rules.

As former editor of Bosnisk post said to Nationen "Minority papers do not have the same add market as do Norwegian medias. Without public support it is not possible to run a serious newspaper". Moreover, minority publications have much more trouble recruiting competent journalists than do the mainstream media.

The current maximum grant is not appropriate for a day-to-day news publication, even in an online context for which you need at least some employees. The system needs more flexibility and differentiation, for instance by raising the maximum grant for daily minority papers. The discussions during the conference also concluded in this direction. It remains to be seen if minority publications will be increasingly encouraged, as they should be.

- Jørgen Flatabø