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Beyond Representation



Processes of defining citizenship become particularly exposed in a media context, since this is an arena where a broad range of actors get their voice heard. The aim of this contribution is to explore the claims-making activities by different actors in stories about the Roma in Finnish newspapers. I want to elucidate the access to the mediated space and provide some examples of how citizenship claims are raised and contextualised. The empirical study is based content analysis and qualitative text analysis of articles from 1990-2003 in both the largest Finnish-language and the largest Swedish-language daily newspapers (Helsingin Sanomat and Hufvudstadsbladet). While Romani voices do have the possibility to contest dominant views in newspaper stories related to the Roma, this article argues, firstly, for a diversified coverage on Romani issues and, secondly, for increasing dialogue between a broader group of actors.
Nordicom Review 27 (2006) 2, pp. 87-104
Beyond Representation
Newspapers and Citizenship Participation
in the Case of a Minority Ethnic Group
Processes of defining citizenship become particularly exposed in a media context, since
this is an arena where a broad range of actors get their voice heard. The aim of this con-
tribution is to explore the claims-making activities by different actors in stories about the
Roma in Finnish newspapers. I want to elucidate the access to the mediated space and
provide some examples of how citizenship claims are raised and contextualised. The
empirical study is based content analysis and qualitative text analysis of articles from
1990-2003 in both the largest Finnish-language and the largest Swedish-language daily
newspapers (Helsingin Sanomat and Hufvudstadsbladet). While Romani voices do have
the possibility to contest dominant views in newspaper stories related to the Roma, this
article argues, firstly, for a diversified coverage on Romani issues and, secondly, for in-
creasing dialogue between a broader group of actors.
Key Words: newspapers, citizenship, claims-making, ethnicity, Roma, Finland
Citizenship, in a broad sense, is understood as the relationship between the nation-state
and its members, an affiliation which is defined by a set of relations between rights,
duties, identity and participation (see e.g. Delanty 2000, Lister 2003, Turner 1993).
While studies of the materialisation of political, civil and social rights have been sig-
nificant for analyses of the unequal distribution of resources, there is an increasing
emphasis on processes of claiming rights – not solely on the legal rights per se.1 There
is also a subsequent empirical vacuum or tendency to avoid analysis of the “actual
spaces in which citizenship is expressed” (Jones & Gaventa 2002: 19). With this con-
tribution I want to shed light on one of the central spaces or arenas of citizenship agency
– the daily press.
The content of the citizenship category is influenced by the practices of different
political and administrative elites, civil society, ordinary citizens’ practices, scholarly
and media debates. It is obvious that the media has a double role in relation to notions
of citizenship. Firstly, the media is essential within the frame of citizenship identity
work. Citizenship has been strongly connected to nation-state building. The very func-
tion of the media has always been to create shared narratives and a shared history which
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promotes shared values (Kivikuru 2003: 26). For scholars of nationalism, the impor-
tance of print media for creating a sense of belonging to the national community is fa-
miliar (Anderson 1991; Billig 1995; Calhoun 1997). While instances of homogenising
national identity building can be traced in the press, challenging and marginal discourses
are equally salient.2 Subsequently, the second role of the media in relation to citizenship
is to serve as an arena for negotiation and contestation. Not only elite actors but also
ordinary citizens can participate through letters to the editor and interviews. The poten-
tial diversity of voices turns the daily press into a powerful arena for empirical analy-
sis of citizenship agency.
This study takes a particular focus on claims-making, defined by Ruud Koopmans
(2004: 454) as a process of “collective and public articulation of political demands, call
to action, proposals, criticisms ... which, actually or potentially, affect the interests or
integrity of the claimants and/or other collective actors”. So, claims can be raised by
target groups as well as by other actors on behalf of disadvantaged groups. The media,
or in this context the press, only represents a small selection of the universe of politi-
cal actions and statements. Yet what is interesting here are the public claims and not
those claims that were not successful in reaching the public arena (c.f. Koopmans 2004).
Different nation-states obviously have different traditions and languages of citizenship
(Bussemaker & Voet 1998; Siim 2000).3 Koopmans concludes that the selection proc-
ess by the media is a central mechanism “by which citizenship regimes impinge on pat-
terns of public claims-making” (2004: 454). Through looking at claims-making practices
in newspapers we can not only learn about the role of a particular group, here the Roma,
as part of the political community, but also about the citizenship cultures of different
national models.
Minority Ethnic Group Claims
During the last decades there has been an increasing concern with “the need to uncover
the reality of the citizen often conceived as ‘male-white-able-bodied’, and to take ac-
tion to enable minority groups to participate in social, political and civic life, defining
and claiming their rights to become equal, active citizens” (Jones & Gaventa 2002: 15-
16). This study takes a particular focus on claims-making activities in the press in re-
lation to Finnish Roma, a minority ethnic group with full and equal membership rights
within Finnish society, yet with a marginalised position in terms of full participation. The
approximately 10 000 Roma of Finland have experienced a long history of attempted
assimilation and elimination. In spite of such violation on Romani cultural integrity, they
have remained a minority ethnic group with its own particular identity. As a result of
various social transformations and an increasingly multiculturalist discourse, the Roma
are now formally recognised as a minority in the constitution and in various international
agreements. The position of the Roma within the Finnish nation-state is quite multifac-
eted and the construction of ethnic difference is presumably more complex than in the
case of immigrants. On one hand, the Roma have continuously been defined as the eter-
nal ‘other’. On the other hand, they have a long historical and institutional anchorage
within the nation-state (Grönfors 1977; Huttunen 1997; Markkanen 2003; Nordberg
2003; Vehmas 1961).
Claims-making by different minority ethnic groups in relation to the nation-state has
focused on issues of cultural rights and recognition of difference. Multicultural politics
or a politics of recognition propagate a public account of differences, institutionalised
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in legal instruments, policies and practices (Kymlicka, 1995; Taylor, 1994). Several
scholars have, however, raised critique against the essentialist stance on collective iden-
tities as a prerequisite for a politics of recognition (e.g. Benhabib, 2002). Fraser (1997:
185), in a response to pluralist multiculturalism, concludes that it “tends to substantialize
identities, treating them as given positivities instead of as constructed relations. It tends,
consequently, to balkanize culture, setting groups apart from one another, ignoring the
ways they cut across one another, and inhibiting cross-group interaction and identifica-
tion”. It is also being questioned whether claims for recognition are efficient enough
means to counteract inequality and oppression. A politics of recognition potentially
“diverts attention from the struggle for economic inequality and social justice”, leaving
the prevailing social order intact (Parekh 2004: 202; also Fraser, 1997; Lister, 2003).
A way out of the tension within identity politics is to emphasise not the identity catego-
ries as such but the process or practice of struggle and claims-making. Cultural rights
involve not merely the right to be represented, but also the negotiation of difference at
communal spaces in which competing positions and claims are brought together
(Murdock 1999; 30). Deliberative democracy calls for the recognition of all citizens as
being capable of engaging in debates about the common good (Benhabib, 2002). A fo-
cus on claims-making conceptualises citizenship as agency, giving a sound role to the
citizen’s participation in defining the common good.
Aim, Data and Methods
With this contribution I would like to shed light on the claims-making activities by dif-
ferent actors in stories about Roma in Finnish newspapers. Firstly, I want to elucidate
access to the mediated space. Who are the dominant actors, which are the dominant
topics and how are these interconnected? Secondly, I want to provide some examples
of how citizenship claims are raised and contextualised. The focus thus is on Romani
– and other agents’- participation and voice rather than merely representation in the
press, even though the latter is highly significant for citizenship as well, in the form of
the public construction of citizenship identities. The nature of the research questions
calls for a combination of ‘quantitative’ and ‘qualitative’ methods.
The access of different voices and the possibility to participate in debates on certain
topics are analysed with content analysis (see e.g. Bergström & Boréus 2000;
Krippendorff 1980),4 using only a few recording units. I chose to focus on the dominant
topics and actors in each article.5 The content analysis is based on 263 articles, 202
articles from Helsingin Sanomat (HS) and 61 from Hufvudstadsbladet (Hbl) between
1990 and 2003.
Both of the two newspapers selected for the study are national dailies. HS is the
dominant daily with 1. 1 million readers. The paper states it is independent and non-
aligned. Hbl was selected because of its potential to bring a minority perspective to the
public debate. While Finland is officially a bilingual country, the Swedish-speaking
Finns amount to only six per cent of the population. Hbl is the largest Swedish language
newspaper with 136 000 readers. It is also officially non-aligned, but closest to the
Swedish-speaking Party.6
As far as these newspapers’ own archives are concerned, I had access to an exhaustive
database on the subject resulting in 529 articles: 451 articles from HS and 78 from Hbl
between 1990 and 2003. The remarkably different quantity of available articles in these
two newspapers stems from different archive procedures and accessibility. HS maintains
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an exhaustive internet archive, which can be accessed by anyone through paying a fee.
From the first search results on Roma and Gypsy -including derivatives- articles on asy-
lum-seekers and non-Finnish Roma as well as briefs about TV-programmes or public
events that were not considered as reviews, were excluded.7 Hbl does have a small-scale
internet archive, but it covers only the years from 1998 onwards. The 78 articles from Hbl
were collected on the basis of a list of articles on Roma/Gypsies from 1990-2003 submit-
ted by the newspaper’s archive.8 While the HS archive includes every text containing the
word Roma or Gypsy, the Hbl archive predominantly includes texts with a major focus on
the minority ethnic group in question. After an initial coding of the 529 articles, I decided
to select for the final analysis only cases or articles where the main focus was on Roma,
subsequently filtering cases where Roma were mentioned in the text but with a minor role.
This procedure selected the 263 articles for the content analysis.
The qualitative analysis drew on a first sample of 186 articles: 141 articles published
in HS and 45 articles published in Hbl. The sample was collected according to whether
an article contained claims and arguments related to Finnish Roma or not and whether
the story on the Roma constituted one of the major themes of the article.9 These two
qualities were coded within the realm of the categorising content analysis (see Table 1
in the appendix). According to Fairclough, the data for analysing discourses can be
selected on the basis of such a preliminary survey of the corpus (1992: 230; see also
Pietikäinen 2000). As it was not possible to closely analyse all the 186 stories, I made
a final selection of texts for a closer reading and decided to concentrate on the 60 texts
from the years 1990, 1994, 1998 and 2002. Romani voices or actors are more frequently
occurring in these texts. Persons of authority and politicians are represented to a slightly
higher degree than in the total data and the press to a lesser degree. Since the press is
interpreted as the actor in a large amount of short and descriptive news items contain-
ing no other source, it is not surprising that the voice of the press is salient more often
in the total material (see Table 2 in the appendix).
The Roma in the Finnish Press – Topics and Actors
Most young Roma do not speak Romani and the everyday language among Finnish
Roma is Finnish, or in a few occasions Swedish (se also Huttunen 1997). While the lack
of a language barrier means that the Roma, theoretically, have the same access to the
media as the rest of the population, they constitute a comparatively apolitical group and
letters to the editor are, for example, very seldom occurring in the dailies. The number
of illiterate Roma was relatively high only a few decades ago and the tradition of reading
newspapers has remained weak (Markkanen 2003). Consequently, the agenda-setting of
the media and the use of sources have a significant influence on the possibilities for the
Roma to get their voice heard and to avoid a situation in which inclusions and exclu-
sions are shaped only from above.
To gain an insight in the distribution of topics on the Roma in general as well as over
time, the dominant topic of each article was coded. Thus, the article or story constitutes
the sampling unit (Krippendorff 1980: 57-58). While a single article may contain sev-
eral topics, the dominant one was conceived as that which gained most space in terms
of mm column. It is still important to be aware of the fact that what is identified as the
dominant topic is ultimately based on the interpretation of me as the analyst.
As Table 1 shows, the early 1990’s newspaper coverage was concerned with issues
related to the social situation of the Roma- focusing on general feature stories and writ-
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ings about public service and educational issues. A cultural political turn is noticeable
after 1993. Linguistic rights are debated alongside political mobilisation. The public
debate on cultural and linguistic rights saw a peak in 1993 with a proposed amendment
of the Finnish constitution, through which the Roma, the Sámi and other groups were
granted the right to maintain and develop their own language and culture. From 1997
onwards the emerging agenda of discrimination is arguably a result of newly signed
minority right treaties and various reports launched by international organisations. There
seems to be a shift from a social to a cultural to a legal agenda. These shifts can be
compared to similar findings from a study of the Parliamentary debate on Romani is-
sues (Nordberg 2004). What is different on the media arena is the emerging emphasis
on crime stories.
The most dominant topics have been reviews of culture, crime, discrimination and
racism. All these topics may imply a rather reactive form of newspaper coverage. It is
familiar from previous studies that the coverage in the daily press largely follows the
official views and that the topics of the media correspond to the concerns of the majority,
particularly to those of the political and administrative elite, rather than to concerns of
the minority itself (van Dijk 1991; Pietikäinen 2000). Rather than disassociating Romani
group identity from the way it is usually defined, the media reproduces a traditional
conceptualisation of being a Rom through the emphasis on crime reports of different
kinds and on articles on Romani musicians and entertainers.
Arguably, when looking at the absolute numbers of articles, roughly the same number
of articles has been produced on the general situation of the Roma, on public service and
education over time. The decreasing share of social and background reporting is not a
consequence of decreasing coverage about these things but rather of increasing cover-
age of Romani issues in general and of discrimination and crime in particular. In 1990-
1993 the newspapers published no more than 23 articles with a predominant focus on
Romani issues and in 2001-2003 the number had risen to 84. It is clear that the inter-
nationalisation of politics has brought about an increased coverage of Romani issues as
Table 1. The Share of Topics in Articles with a Predominant Focus on the Finnish
Roma in the Helsingin Sanomat and Hufvudstadsbladet
Topic 1990-1992 1993-1996 1997-2000 2001-2003 Total
Reviews of culture 17,4 13,2 25,0 13,1 17,5
Crime 8,7 2,9 21,6 20,2 15,2
Discrimination and racism 8,7 5,9 18,2 19,0 14,4
Political agency 8,7 16,2 6,8 13,1 11,4
Roma rights, background,
general situation 21,7 5,9 10,2 9,5 9,9
Appointments 0,0 20,6 1,1 8,3 8,4
Public service and education 13,0 10,3 6,8 3,6 7,2
Other 8,7 10,3 5,7 2,4 6,1
Language and culture 4,3 11,8 2,3 2,4 4,9
Transnationalism 8,7 2,9 2,3 8,3 4,9
% 100,0 100,0 100,0 100,0 100,0
N 23688884263
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part of the ordinary newspaper agenda. This follows a general trend of ‘multiculturalist’
journalism (see e.g. Cottle 2000; Raittila & Vehmas 2005). Stories on discrimination and
racism as well as on crimes directed towards the Roma elucidate the oppression of the
Romani people and the need to take action against discriminatory and criminal practices.
Nonetheless, it potentially contributes to constructing the Roma in a rather essentialist
and stereotypical way if these reports are not counterbalanced with stories about the
Roma as full and equal members of society, of Roma who are not victims of discrimi-
nation or involved in criminal acts. It is necessary to more closely analyse the texts in
order to trace possible contestations of essentialising identity categorisations within the
stories, but from the content analysis we can learn that the agenda-setting rather repro-
duces than balances a stereotypical understanding of Romani identity.
Studying actors in the press potentially opened up an analysis of power and influence
in public discourse. The main actor was coded in each article. When one article con-
tained several actors the dominant one was understood as that which gained most space
in terms of mm column. Instead of actors or voices, participants are sometimes coded.
While being a participant “opens up the possibility to be heard” (c.f. Pietikäinen 2000:
189) and indicates presence or being mentioned in newspaper texts, the explicit objec-
tive by identifying actors or claimants, is to study the participants who actually get heard
and make a statement.
Table 2. The Share of Actors in Articles with a Predominant Focus on the Finnish
Roma in the Helsingin Sanomat and Hufvudstadsbladet
Actors 1990-1992 1993-1996 1997-2000 2001-2003 Total
Press 17,4 38,2 45,5 39,3 39,2
Roma 39,1 42,6 29,5 26,2 32,7
Authorities 8,7 10,3 10,2 9,5 9,9
Expert 17,4 5,9 8,0 6,0 7,6
Other 13,0 0,0 2,3 13,1 6,1
Politicians 4,3 2,9 4,5 6,0 4,6
% 100,0 100,0 100,0 100,0 100,0
N 23688884263
Table 2 presents the distribution of actors over time. When there is no particular source
being quoted or a reader who has written a column or letter to the editor, the dominant
actor is interpreted as the press.
Table 2 shows that the possibility to get heard in stories related to the Roma has rela-
tively decreased for members of the group. There was a peak of Romani actors being
quoted or engaging in the press debate between 1993 and 1996, coinciding with the
‘cultural turn’ after which there was a decrease. Also expert voices are comparatively
less dominating than in the earlier days, while politicians obtain slightly more influence
in the stories. The visibility of the authorities has remained quite stable. The institution-
alisation of minority rights and the subsequent emphasis on the public sphere in cater-
ing for minority ethnic rights might be reflected in the more evident agency by politi-
cal elites.
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Table 3. Share of Actors on Topics in Articles with a Predominant Focus on the Finnish Roma in the Helsingin Sanomat and Hufvudstadsbladet
Discri- Roma rights,
mination Public background,
Reviews and Language Political Trans- service and general
Actors of culture Crime Appointments racism and culture agency nationalism education Other situation Total
Press 56,5 62,5 45,5 31,6 30,8 30,0 38,5 21,1 31,3 11,5 39,2
Roma 28,3 17,5 27,3 13,2 46,2 60,0 0,0 52,6 43,8 53,8 32,7
Authorities 0,0 15,0 4,5 21,1 7,7 3,3 7,7 10,5 0,0 23,1 9,9
Expert 10,9 2,5 9,1 5,3 15,4 3,3 0,0 10,5 18,8 7,7 7,6
Other 4,3 2,5 0,0 23,7 0,0 3,3 15,4 0,0 6,3 0,0 6,1
Politicians 0,0 0,0 13,6 5,3 0,0 0,0 38,5 5,3 0,0 3,8 4,6
% 100,0 100,0 100,0 100,0 100,0 100,0 100,0 100,0 100,0 100,0 100,0
N 46402238133013191626263
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From Table 3 we can see why Romani actors are less visible during the end of the
1990’s and during the new millennium. Topics with a high degree of Romani participa-
tion include background and general stories, language and culture as well as articles on
appointments to different tasks and positions, whilst the increasingly emphasised top-
ics of discrimination and racism as well as crime are predominantly or to a relatively
high degree commented on by authorities. None of the articles on transnational Romani
issues is dominated by the voice of the Roma themselves, rather this is an agenda con-
trolled by politicians.
The content analysis points to an increasing interest of the Finnish press in Romani
issues in general and in issues related to the legal and human rights realm in particular.
A Qualitative Analysis of Citizenship Claims-Making
Claims-making in the press in relation to Romani issues is a complex phenomenon in-
volving Romani actors as well as various elite actors and, to a very limited extent, the
general public. It encompasses a variety of topics and issues. In the rest of this article
I would like to shed light on the dynamics of these practices and on some dilemmas of
claims-making in relation to Romani issues in Finland, even though I would argue that
these phenomena are not unique for a Finnish context and obviously not only for the
minority ethnic group known as Finnish Roma. The following question governed the
qualitative text analysis: What kind of claims can be found in the texts and how are these
claims contextualized? The notion of claims is here understood as political demands,
call to action, proposals and criticisms related to the relationship between the Roma and
the majority society (see Koopmans 2004).
For the qualitative analysis it was an important aim to use a data-driven approach. I
have re-organised the texts according to various citizenship claims and under each claim
I have collected examples of how this claim is contextualised, how notions of citizen-
ship are articulated in the various text segments (c.f. Pietikäinen 2000; Silverman 2001;
Winter-Jørgensen and Phillips 2000). This re-organisation of the data made it possible
to finally identify two major rationales – claims related to difference and claims related
to sameness. The former of the two is a category of claims-making dominated by the
Roma, while to latter of the two is voiced by various actors.
Claims-making activities drawing on difference or on a particularist citizenship identity
are predominantly carried out by Romani activists. These claims-making strategies re-
late to the collective identity of the Roma and to claims for recognition of this
particularist identity and to cultural or group rights. Cultural and linguistic rights are
mentioned in different texts by different actors, but when other than Romani voices are
heard they are seldom engaging in any form of reasoning or claims-making.
Citizenship theory has been concerned with the process of evolving rights. Starting
from civil to political and then social rights, the new era of rights has increasingly been
about the recognition of identities and difference in society – a cultural dimension of
citizenship (Fraser 1997; Isin and Wood 1999; Lister 2003; Young 1998). During the
early 1990s, Romani members of the Advisory Board on Romani Affairs were inter-
viewed in HS:10 “Instead of social welfare for Gypsies, the new Board emphasises the
promoting of Romani culture and language. Among other things, an educational and
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cultural centre of our own is being sorted out” (HS, 5.1.1990). A redirection of social
rights to cultural rights has been suggested by, amongst others, Pakulski (1997). Such
a shift of emphasis of right claims is more clearly articulated in the Anglo-Saxon schol-
arly and political debate and the social dimension of citizenship rights is not totally
rejected in the data of this study. Nonetheless, it is clear that the a ‘cultural turn’ traced
in the content analysis around 1993 was initiated or actively propagated by Romani
activists already at the very beginning of the last decade. A push factor behind this call
for action was arguably the stigmatised identity evolving from social welfare claims.11
Claims for cultural recognition are generally unspecific during these times, but when
cultural markers are brought to public attention they are conceptualised in a rather nar-
row and traditional manner. Talk about the wandering Roma, for example, is not visible
after this period:
The dominant reason for oppression has been the animosity of the majority popu-
lation and the secret admiration of the unyielding wanderers. Their wild and free
lifestyle was already a threat to the feudal society (HS, 16.8.1994).
Traditional Romani culture is seen as strongly linked to earlier days. One of the Romani
representatives suggests that settling down will destroy what he depicts as Romani cul-
ture: “Romani culture is lost as people settle and work. It is the modern-time, to which
everyone has to adjust” (HS, 1.2.1994). Thus, the decline of traditional Romani life is
accepted as a feat of modernisation and statements attached to traditional culture are not
framed as right claims, rather as claims for recognition of historical misrepresentations
and for understanding and respect. Thus, also these claims are articulated within a
counter-discourse against a stigmatised Romani identity. One of the Romani participants
draws on the concept of caring when contesting the meaning of citizenship virtues, i.e.
of being a ‘good citizen’:
In the Finnish society a good person is extremely productive and efficient and
according to that he is measured. But when the Roma say ‘damn, that was a good
man’, the content of the words are entirely different. The good man has been a
warm person, who has cared for other people. The cold Finns, who feel less and
less responsibility for each other, frighten Nikkinen. Caring has become a pub-
lic matter, financed by taxation (HS, 16.8.1994).
While claims for understanding and respect can be rather passive and intertwined with
the notion of tolerance the claims in this context do challenge dominant
conceptualisations of citizenship. Nick Stevenson (2003: 152-153), in his search for
cultural citizenship, calls for not merely the empowering of ‘the other’ within public
conversations, but for an “understanding of the social processes that have historically
promoted some views over others”.
The evolving cultural rights discourse is salient from the mid-1990s, corresponding
to external events related to the internationalisation of Finnish politics. Cultural rights
are increasingly claimed, not only for the sake of revaluing a stigmatised identity in
relation to the majority society, but for the value of cultural rights for the individual’s
self-esteem. Cultural right claims are seemingly raised in two different ways. Firstly,
claims are raised for the support of culture and particularly Romni language training.
Cultural and linguistic right claims are legitimised on ‘humanitarian’ as well as on ‘so-
cial policy’ grounds. The lack of recognition of the Romani language and culture is
argued to create a poor self-esteem and a feeling of being less gifted in school. A Roma
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who made a tutorial for teachers concludes that: “If schools cannot support the child’s
particular identity, the child may become distressed and anxious” (HS, 15.12.1994).
Linguistic and cultural right claims are predominantly articulated in relation to young
people. From the point of view of social policies, the recognition of linguistic and cul-
tural rights is argued to promote a successful education and integration in the larger
Roma children need more education in their own language than they receive now.
Only 240 of a total of 1700-2000 Roma children going to pre-school and com-
prehensive school receive their education in their own language, says Secretary
General, Miranda Vuolasranta, from the Advisory Board for Roma Affairs... The
level of education concerning the Roma is often lower...the reason is the lan-
guage handicap of the parents and low education, says Vuolasranta. Since child-
ren do not receive their education in their mother tongue, they are often classed
as being less capable, states Vuolasranta, stressing the role of the teachers and
the teacher training (Hbl, 4.2.2002).
In spite of full formal recognition and state policies, which are materialised in legal
instruments, there is a growing debate on how to implement these rights in practice.
After a decade of claims-making with no sound criticism towards the state apparatuses,
we can now find more calls for action involving also openly critical voices.
According to the law Romani children have the right to their own language and
culture, but in practice the law is not implemented... Only a few municipalities
carry out their duty to arrange mother tongue instruction for Romani pupils...
By the end of the day, the majority decides which sector of the Romani culture
that is being developed. “For this reason sawing courses are offered to Romani
girls. There is a feeling that something has to be done and what is done is what
first slips into mind” (HS, 27.2.2002).
Secondly, while linguistic rights claims were particularly explicit from the middle of the
1990s onwards, a new form of cultural rights claims were emphasised at the beginning
of the 21st century. These claims can be interpreted as claims for presence and visibil-
ity. Rather than claiming minority rights, the line of argumentation is now that the ma-
jority has the right to information about the minority ethnic groups and that schools need
to include information about Romani history in their curricula. These claims were legiti-
matised by referring to the shared history of the nation-state and to the participation in
the (second world) war: “We have lived side by side for 500 years. Romani men partici-
pated in the Finnish wars but school books do not refer to it” (HS, 27.2.2002).
While scholarly debates have highlighted the risk of identity politics for cultural
balcanisation – of ‘setting groups apart from one another’ (Fraser 1997: 185), the
claims-making activities by the Roma do not draw on such logic and they subsequently
do not threaten the national communitarian narratives. They rather emphasise the role
of identity politics for integration, something which also can be interpreted as a result
of the long collaboration between the Roma and the public authorities on the policy on
Roma (see e.g. Suonoja & Lindberg 2000). What can be noted, however, is a contested
view among the Roma on how to present Romani culture to the broader public and in
this respect the newspapers have an important role in promoting a dialogue between
different actors – Romani as well as other. During 1998 there was an intense debate
about some TV series portraying the Roma in an arguably stereotypical way. A film-
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maker with a Romani background produced the fiction with a biographical touch. In the
following press debate, predominantly about the blood feuding among Finnish Roma,
the Romani film-maker was heavily criticised by the Roma and accused of being a be-
trayer and not a genuine Rom. The debate pointed to an unsolved dilemma about the
boundaries of minority group integrity and openness. The internal critique towards the
film was justified in the press by referring to the long history of oppression and the fear
of losing newly broken grounds of mutual acceptance and tolerance.
Now we see that this first TV-series, with all its prejudices and clichés, threat-
ens to smash everything into small pieces. The series overflows with exaggera-
tion, and contains very little of normal Romani life. Miranda Vuolasranta ex-
plains that the question is so sensitive simply because most people know so lit-
tle about the Roma (Hbl, 18.1.1998).
The quote shows how loose the ends of representation are, how vulnerable the minor-
ity perceive its constructed public identity as well as the experienced importance of this
identity for legitimising demands for recognition and rights. This form of argumentation
could also explain the earlier lack of open critique towards state policies, a critique that
is visible only after the new Millennium. A journalist interprets the dilemma:
As long as the majority of the population has the power to formulate the type of
problems faced by the Roma population, perhaps it is too demand an
open dialogue concerning the most difficult questions concerning the minority
culture. On the other hand, the question concerns what the courts, researchers,
journalists etc. should do with unofficial knowledge of the kind mentioned above,
if all of those concerned prefer to deny the issues rather than discuss them (Hbl,
I would argue that the major trends in the claims-making practices during the latter years
of this study are, firstly, the emphasis on empowerment and agency from within the
community and, secondly, the increasingly open discussions about new forms of
intergenerational problems facing the community in contemporary society.
Traditions are vanishing. Young people are involved in drug and medicine abuse.
It has taken away their identity. Among us, it is unacceptable for children to stay
out after eight o’clock or to be even drunk in front of the parents. Such a respect
for parents is now gone. I do not know what it will be like in ten years; it is very
frightening. Too easily young Roma conform to the street life of the majority
and to a bad way of living... Now the 45-60 year old must take their responsibil-
ity and talk to their young ones (HS, 18.3.2002).
Debates on difference and particularity and cultural rights are debates solely carried out
by the Roma, and there is not really any dialogue among different actors about the na-
ture of cultural rights.
Alongside with claims drawing on the right to difference – to recognition, culture and
language, claims are raised for equal or similar treatment. These are two rationales
which are obviously interdependent. Three different notions of claims-making related
to sameness can be found. Firstly, claims for recognition are not only articulated as the
understanding of difference, but in another counter-argumentative way – within a dis-
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course of anti-ethnicisation which relates to the desire for normality and the right to be
‘ordinary’. Cultural features known to the broader public are argued not to be so differ-
ent from those of the majority. It is, for example, stressed that the majority population
has overrated the distinctiveness of purity customs:
I do think that the norms have been overrated in public. Many of them are also
complied with in majority families, Helsinki-based Leila Vuolasranta notices
(HS, 5.1.1990).
Citizen’s obligations are equally claimed to stand above family obligations: ‘The fam-
ily is extremely important to the Roma. But prior to family ties one has to follow law
and order’ (HS, 18.3.2002). Thus, this first notion of claims for sameness can be under-
stood as a claim for being seen as any Finnish citizen. Secondly, to counter-act the stig-
matised collective identity calls for being seen not just as a Finnish citizen but as an
individual rather than a group member. Debates on crime reports, discussed by the Roma
well as by journalists in columns, are particularly drawing on such a disassociation of
negative characteristics linked with the Romani people:
This is a question about just one individual who has committed a crime, and such
individuals exist in all groups. We are afraid that the issue will expand to become
a fact concerning the entire minority, which is often the case with the Roma, says
a Rom who prefers to remain anonymous – just because she does not want to be
labelled. She mentions the police murder almost a year ago that was committed by
the Dane, Steen Christensen, as an example of how “good Nordic citizens” are
seldom linked to their backgrounds in the same way (Hbl, 13.10.1998).
I would like to stress that the topic of crime in the content analysis does not merely imply
reported crimes committed by, or directed towards, a Rom. There are also critical dis-
cussions about crime reports and also the press is critical towards the lack of stories
about Romani everyday life. In relation to the previously mentioned TV-series, a jour-
nalist concludes:
The main problem with the perhaps that in spite of everything, it
is not so much about the things that are shown, but about the things that are
almost never shown on TV or in other mass media...stories concerning normal
Romani everyday life – where someone has a job within mainstream society,
another has a traditional profession, no immediate stabbing threat exists, and
children go to school (Hbl, 18.1.1998).
A researcher completes the argument: “We are still waiting for Romani portrayals in
which the individuality and difference of the characters would overshadow
communitarian traits” (HS, 20.1.1998). The ambiguity of these statements is that “eve-
ryone” is aware of the fact that the diversity within the community and the everyday life
of minority ethnic group members are hardly visible in newspaper reports, but the media
logic and practices seem to be written in stone. Unfortunately this is also true for the
perception of mediated messages and representations. Thirdly, and perhaps the most
visible, claims-making strategies are related to notions of sameness as equality and as
non-discrimination, an agenda which was increasingly emphasised during the latter
years of the study. While the Roma claim equal access to housing, work and education,
such claims to socio-economic justice are comparatively rare. Moreover, when claims
for improved housing conditions are raised they are justified by the influence of good
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housing conditions on schooling. For a claim to be successful it seems to require an
emphasis on integration in the larger society, something which was salient also in the
case of linguistic rights. Romani claims-making in the Finnish press predominantly
draws on the benefits of cultural and social rights for integration than on the actual citi-
zenship right of cultural and social equality. Equal treatment facilitates contributions to
the nation building:
It would be important to find ways by which also a Romani family in very deep
water would find an apartment, which, for example, makes children’s schooling
possible (HS, 11.12.1994).
Not until the 21st Century are voices raised for increasing social policy resources to the
education of the Roma. Lacking equality is rather articulated in relation to discrimina-
tion and the targets of such criticisms are not the bureaucratic apparatuses but ordinary
people and different representatives of the private sector. A legal discourse is dominating
this anti-discriminatory agenda, controlled by the authorities rather than by the Roma
themselves. Discrimination is not permitted; it implies a violation of Finnish law and is
therefore clandestine.
This is about a criminal offence according to the paragraph in the penal code,
which explicitly forbids such discrimination based on race, nationality, ethnic
group... (Hbl, 22.7.1998, editorial).
The quote above is related to a report on discriminatory practices in the restaurant busi-
ness conducted by HS. A reporter followed three Romani women to thirteen Helsinki
restaurants, out of which entry was denied to seven. The report sparked an intense de-
bate. The issue of discrimination of the Roma suddenly became an issue of national or
societal interest. This case contributed to the high rate of stories on discrimination at the
end of the 1990s. The discussion mobilised a broad group of actors, including various
elites. It also highlights the image of reactive rather than proactive coverage of Romani
issues. Minister of European Issues, Ole Norrback, filed an appeal concluding that:
...individual cases certainly do not justify a denial of entry to the premise for all
Roma. According to the Minister, Finnish society still seems to encompass char-
acteristics resembling the American South before Martin Luther King... When
racism occurs it must be responded to. I respond now, besides as a Minister, as
an ordinary citizen (HS, 14.7.1998).
In this respect Romani discrimination became a public issue. It is also one of the top-
ics which actively engage a variety of actors in a public discussion. A closer reading of
the argumentation elucidates an assumed prerequisite of referring to national or state
interests, rather than to merely human rights as in rights for the individual to be pro-
tected from humiliating treatment of different kind. A representative of the restaurant
business makes a statement about Finland’s reputation in terms of international coop-
eration and competition while discriminatory practices within the restaurant industry are
conceived as a result of “conflicts”:
Finland cannot afford to be labelled as a state in which discrimination is part of
everyday life. Alongside the unsettling of the principles of a state of law, it also
makes international cooperation more difficult and weakens competition in the
travel industry. Besides considering new regulations, new solutions by which
conflicts can be relieved must be found (HS, 25.7.1998).
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When a Romani representative makes claims related to anti-discrimination, also he
draws on a discourse of nation-building and claims respect according to the Romani
contributions to nation-state building:
I am good enough to represent Finland and the whole of Europe in the world,
but I am not allowed to enter my local pub ... Also Romani men defended Fin-
land then, when we were at war, and also now we have to fulfil the duties as
Finnish citizens and also gain rights for ourselves... (HS, 12.8.1998).
It is a rather small group of the Roma who give voice to most articles on Romani mat-
ters, while some actually new agendas and claims are raised by a few representatives in
their first and only ‘moment of fame’. While the cooperation between Romani and
majority elite actors seems quite successful on some matters brought to public attention,
such as the case of HS on discrimination, it simultaneously limits the possible agendas
and issues in the newspaper coverage.
This study takes a particular focus on the communicative space of the media and on its
role as an arena for negotiation and contestation. The media, in this case the daily press,
has the potential of involving all kinds of voices or agents, debating all kinds of issues.
Access to the media brings about the power of influencing those claims which success-
fully reach the public arena.
The narrow agenda on Romani issues covered in the Finnish press reproduces the
familiar image of the Roma as outsiders, as entertainers, criminals and victims. While
the increasing coverage of issues related to human rights and discrimination highlights
the insufficiency of the welfare state in catering for all the different forms of exclusion
embedded in a formally equal notion of citizenship, writings on discrimination are still
contributing to the construction of Romani identity as that of being victims. This con-
struction is underpinned by the lack of Romani representatives debating discrimination
in the press. There is also a surprising shortage of feature stories recognising the Roma
not only as representatives of a collective ethnic identity, but as individual citizens with
multiple identities triggered in different settings.
Newspaper representatives and other elite groups do criticise the narrow agenda-
setting on Romani issues, but only through a de facto more multifaceted coverage of
Romani issues we can learn about the complex reality and about the different realities
of the Romani people in Finland. In spite of the increasing emphasis on multiculturalist
journalism and the increasing coverage of Romani issues in Finnish newspapers, the
diversity of stories has not increased, rather the opposite.
While the qualitative analysis of claims-making indicates that Romani actors do have
the possibility of contesting dominant claims and positions, the claims-making activities
are limited to issues which are rather ‘safe’ and typically justified by making reference to
interests of the nation-state, something which is familiar also from other settings, when
expressing a sense of solidarity with the nation-state rather than with a trans-national
Romani community (Huttunen 1997; Nordberg 2006). Claims for social and linguistic
rights, such as the right to learn the Romani language and the right to decent housing, are
interlinked with the aim of integrating into the larger community. In general, the reliance
upon the redistributive role of the welfare state seems quite stable and claims-making
related to socio-economic injustice is rare. Subsequently, the analysis seems to support the
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scholarly critique that a politics of identity may divert attention from struggle for economic
inequality and social justice (e.g. Fraser 1997). Romani actors who get access to the news-
paper arena do, however, constitute a minor group of activists.
It is not possible to draw too large conclusions regarding more recent trends, but
perhaps the shift during this millennium towards more specific critical statements and
the emphasis on empowerment from within, opens for increasing dialogue between a
larger group of Roma and the state apparatuses about how to implement and transform
those social and cultural rights which already exist in the form of legislation.
1. Arguably, the substance of rights does influence the capability to take action as a citizen. Contempo-
rary writing emphasises the need to conceptualise citizenship as a bundle of rights and obligations as
well as an active practice (Lister 2003).
2. Critical voices have, however, been raised against the increasing influence from other media on behalf
of traditional print media and the impact of such a transformation on the citizenry as an active and re-
flexive producer of media products (Isin & Wood 1999; Sennett 1974).
3. Next to the legacy of political and economic liberalism, Finland’s agrarian history has contributed to a
strong influence from communitarian political and theoretical thinking (Anttonen 1998: 357).
4. The kind of content analysis used here includes the counting of certain elements in the texts. In this re-
spect it could be labelled as quantitative content analysis. Yet interpretive elements are present also in
this kind of analysis. The distinction between qualitative and quantitative content analysis is obviously
never clear-cut (Bergström & Boréus 2000). Nonetheless, what distinguishes quantitative content analy-
sis as it is used in this study from the qualitative text analysis is the focus on manifest as opposed to con-
notative, latent or “between-the-lines” meaning (see Riffe et al 1998: 19, referring to Berelson 1952).
5. The intracoder reliability was checked by recoding a sample six months after the first coding. Using
the formula suggested by Holsti (1969), the intracoder reliability was .96 for the topic as well as for
the actor variables.
6. The difference between the two newspapers in terms of the coverage of Romani issues was not very
significant with regard to the diversity of actors. For this reason the reported results of the content
analysis do not distinguish between the two papers. It is also problematic to focus on newspaper com-
parisons in the content analysis when the HS archive procedures possibly generated a more complete
sample of articles with a larger share of short news briefs.
7. The legitimisation of immigration control in relation to Romani asylum-seekers is reported in another
study (Nordberg 2004).
8. The list of articles was cross-checked against the database of Brage’s press archive. This procedure re-
vealed another three articles only.
9. The intracoder reliability was checked by recoding a sample six months after the first coding. Using
the formula suggested by Holsti (1969), the variable determining whether an article had a dominant
focus on the Roma, or not, had a reliability of 1.0. The variable determining whether an article con-
tained claims, or not, had a reliability of .92.
10. The Advisory Board on Romani Affairs is a consultative body where Roma representatives and the
state meet in what is nowadays a permanent institution. Half of the members are members of Romani
NGOs and half of the members are representatives of various Ministries.
11. A more accurate example of an attempt to counter the social policy framework surrounding Romani
issues is also salient in the repeated suggestion to relocate the Advisory Board on Romani Affairs from
the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health to the Ministry of Education (see e.g. Suonoja & Lindberg
I would like to thank the participants of the 17th Nordic Conference on Media and Communica-
tion Research, and particularly Gunilla Hultén, for stimulating discussions and valuable com-
ments on an earlier draft of this paper. I am also grateful for the possibility to present this article
at a research seminar arranged by the Department of Social Sciences at Åbo Akademi University
and for the fruitful comments by the participants. The study is financed by the Foundation of the
Research Institute at Åbo Akademi University and by Svensk-Österbottniska samfundet.
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Table 1. Articles which Include Claims-Making and has a Dominant Focus on Finnish
Yes No Total
Major Yes Count 186 77 263
% 62 33,6 49,7
No Count 114 152 266
% 38 66,4 50,3
Total Count 300 229 529
% 100,0 100,0 100,0
Table 2. The Share of Dominant Actors in Articles Selected or not Selected for the
Qualitative Analysis
Not Selected Selected Total
Actors Press 44,8 20,0 39,2
Roma 28,1 48,3 32,7
Authorities 8,9 13,3 9,9
Expert 7,9 6,7 7,6
Other 6,4 5,0 6,1
Politicians 3,9 6,7 4,6
Total 100,0 100,0 100,0
203 60 263
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