Minority language media and the COVID-19 pandemic – the case of German and Ladin in South Tyrol. An interview with Marc Röggla.
A series edited and conceptualised by Dr. Sergiusz Bober and Craig Willis.
In the second interview of our new series focused on minority language media during the COVID-19 pandemic, Marc Röggla (EURAC Research / Midas) discusses the case of German and Ladin language media in the Autonomous Province of Bolzano, South Tyrol in Italy. Officially trilingual, there are an array of media institutions producing content through different mediums, yet, as Marc explains, despite a general increase in media consumption during the recent crisis there has been a significant drop in revenues due to reduced advertising income. Marc outlines the implications of this trend for the broader MLM context in Europe as well, from his unique perspective as a scholar and practitioner.
Marc begins by outlining the media landscape of South Tyrol and then goes on to answer our set questions on the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact.
As an introduction, could you please summarise the minority language media (MLM) situation in your linguistic sphere?
In South Tyrol, the MLM situation can be considered very favorable in comparison to other European minority regions. In fact, South Tyrol and the German minority is one of the few European minorities which enjoy a full media offering (TV, radio, daily and periodical newspapers, electronic media).
According to several state laws, subsidies are allocated to publishers and radio/television broadcasting companies for the production of content in minority languages. Further, Italian law foresees that the public RAI (Radiotelevisione Italiana) broadcasts radio and television programs in both German and Ladin language within the Autonomous Province of Bolzano/Bozen.
Therefore, South Tyrol has a high number of media outlets in German language (newspaper, Radio, TV, online media): two German Daily Newspapers (Dolomiten, Die Neue Südtiroler Tageszeitung); weekly newspapers (FF – Das Südtiroler Wochenmagazin, Südtiroler Wirtschaftszeitung); TV channels (private SDF-Südtiroler Digital Fernsehen and public RAI Südtirol); Radio channels (e.g. public RAI Südtirol, and private Südtirol1 or Radio Grüne Welle); and many electronic media (e.g. Stol.it, tageszeitung.it, Rainews, suedtirolnews.it and bilingual salto.bz).
Further, in South Tyrol there also exist TV and radio programmes in Ladin language (RAI Ladinia) and a weekly newspaper in Ladin language (La Usc di Ladins) – which also has a digital outlet.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the reporting of the MLM in your area and has there been any effect on readership / viewing figures?
Reporting was focusing obviously very much on the COVID-19 situation (numbers, developments, public press conferences, etc.). During the weeks of the lockdown we had no cultural events, sports, or conferences, and thus reporting in these areas changed and became less important.
I think in South Tyrol we experienced the same trend, which has been seen across Europe: in general, media consumption increased, especially digital media, but revenues decreased radically due to the significant drop of advertisement – which has been very painful for some media outlets.
Of course, especially in a situation of crisis, information in your own language (in these cases a minority language) was getting more and more important and therefore the readership of minority media outlets was rising. Also, online readership, and in some cases sales, increased significantly. But many minority media in South Tyrol are depending, besides public funding and sales, on advertisement and therefore are strongly affected by the COVID-19 crisis.
How has the lockdown / social distancing measures affected other covered content in MLM?
As mentioned, media content focused very much on the COVID-19 situation and its developments, and was thus the main topic over the weeks of the lockdown.
In South Tyrol, the social distancing measures by the State and Province changed often and the media accordingly focused its reporting on the newest developments and the monitoring of the numbers of COVID-19 infections. Of course, reporting also became more difficult, as many journalists had to work from home or smart-work. The journalistic work changed because of the social distancing measures and therefore also interview formats changed; for example, guests could not access the premises of many media outlets due to the social distancing measures.
Due to an initiative by the European Association of Daily Newspapers in Minority and Regional Languages (Midas), it’s members were reporting regularly on the COVID-19 situation in other minority regions and gave an insight how other minorities cope with this.
How has MLM covered issues of majority-minority relations and has the situation or voice of minorities been covered in majority media?
MLM focused reporting very much on the social distancing decrees by the Italian State. Of course, minority media in South Tyrol monitored the regulations by the State very carefully. Considering that South Tyrol is bordering Austria and Switzerland, often a comparison was made between the regulations of Italy, Austria, Switzerland and even Germany.
The usual political issues of majority-minority relations decreased. Only when the Province of Bozen/South Tyrol issued a provincial law to ease the social distancing measures, did the Italian minority-majority relations and Autonomous powers become a big issue in reporting. Initially, the Italian State announced that it will challenge the law before the constitutional court, but at the time of writing the law still is in place, whilst the social distancing measures have been eased in the rest of Italy.
In general, the majority media in Italy do not focus much on minority issues, but when the provincial law came into power, it was all over national news.
In what way has the pandemic affected MLM practitioners’ day to day work and have there been any future implications discussed?
As mentioned, most journalists had to work from home or smart-work. Travelling and meetings were almost impossible or very difficult.
Some media outlets had to cut the working hours of personnel in order to cut costs. Moreover, due to low advertisement sales, the private sector in particular had to reduce costs to remain sustainable. In general, the financial situation is worrying, but we hope that most of the MLM will survive this crisis.
How has social media in minority language played a role during the pandemic?
As we are all aware, social media during the last years became more and more important. Many readers visit media outlets due to content viewed first on social media, and this is also very true for South Tyrol. Many institutions and politicians used social media to spread the COVID-19 social distancing measures and information. Furthermore, I think it became even more important during the lockdown, especially to find information and to stay in contact with institutions, friends and family.
Are there any other points, observations, or impressions of relevance for MLM in the context of COVID-19 you would like to share?
In South Tyrol, the European Association of Daily Newspapers in Minority and Regional Languages (Midas) has its headquarters. In my capacity as General Secretary, I was able to monitor the situation of our 26 members and can conclude that the situation was quite similar in the whole of Europe: readership increased, especially in areas where the newspaper was the only source to receive information on COVID-19 in the mother tongue. In fact, in many European countries minority newspapers were the only source because a lot of national governments did not publish COVID-19 information in the respective minority languages, even though the Council of Europe and the OSCE HCNM have both stressed that the states should not forget to publish information in the minority languages.
Midas newspapers not only published the information but also reported extensively on the COVID-19 situation in other countries and minority areas. Further, the comprehensive border closure situations in Europe were also frequent important issues in reporting, due to their great effect on many minorities.
Some minority newspapers, due to the decrease of sales and advertisement, find themselves in a very difficult situation and fight for their survival. Therefore, Midas has been advocating on the European level that these newspapers receive EU funding, because in some states, the newspapers do not receive national funding.
About the author:
Marc Röggla is the Director of the Center for Autonomy Experience (www.autonomyexperience.org) at EURAC Research (www.eurac.edu) and the General Secretary of the European Association of Daily Newspapers in Minority and Regional Language (Midas, www.midas-press.org). He graduated from the Faculty of Law at the University of Innsbruck, Austria. Since 2013, he has been a Researcher with the Institute for Minority Rights at EURAC research. His research mainly focuses on South Tyrol’s autonomy arrangement and minority media in Europe.
If you wish to write a commentary on this interview, please contact the editors Dr. Sergiusz Bober and Craig Willis.