Pining for DR’s news in English, now marooned online

Tastes and tight budgets mean English-language news broadcasts in Denmark remain a thing of the past

Those who have lived in Denmark long enough may recall a time when the Danish news in English wasn’t synonymous with The Copenhagen Post, but with DR. For 24 years, starting in 1975, the public broadcaster provided a daily summary of the news in English and was the primary source of news for foreigners who had yet to learn Danish.

Those days, though, are likely to remain firmly in the past, according to Lau Rabjerg-Eriksen, an editor with TV station DR1. He said budget cuts led to the elimination of its daily news in English radio broadcast back in 1999, and that the broadcaster has no plans to bring it back.

“Now we have foreign-language news on our website, where we put up six or seven of the most important stories of the day,” Rabjerg-Eriksen told The Copenhagen Post.

When the service was cut, a DR survey showed many immigrants rarely – if ever – listened to the radio, and Rabjerg-Eriksen said that the broadcaster’s decision to focus solely online was preferable on two counts.

“We try to release important news more than once a day, and we believe that it is much better off now online,” Rabjerg-Eriksen said. “And 15 years ago, the radio news programme disturbed a lot of listeners who had no interest in the English-language news. What we offer now is the modern way to cater to the international community.”

If it can play in Helsinki …

The question of foreign-language news has been debated before. In 2010, political party Radikale, then in opposition, proposed starting Danish news in English, Turkish and Arabic on television in an effort to keep non-Danish speakers abreast of the events taking place in Denmark. But that plan was shot down by the centre-right government in power at the time.

“If you want integration, then it doesn’t work if people use their own language. Pia Kjærsgaard, the then leader of the right-wing Dansk Folkeparti, told TV2 News at the time.You must watch news in Danish to learn the Danish language.”

But DR and the Danish government need only look as far as Finland to find a successful English-language news service.

Since 1999, public broadcaster Yle has broadcast a TV and radio news bulletin. In addition, some 200,000 people visit their news in English site every month.

Denise Wall, a communications strategist and journalist for Yle News, has lived in Helsinki for eleven years and has seen the positive effect the news in English has had both internationally and nationally.

“There has been a lot of feedback abroad about our service, and there are many who follow Yle News and who are very grateful for this type of news channel. We also have a considerable Twitter and Facebook following,” Wall told The Copenhagen Post.

As well as being popular amongst the international English-language contingency who want to follow what’s going on in the country they live in, Yle News is an important tool for younger Finns.

“Yle News has also become a key tool for English teaching in Finnish schools and many watch our morning broadcasts,” Wall said.

Flag carrier Finnair has begun using Yle News as its official English news source, and the Finnish Foreign Ministry often links to Yle stories in its ‘This is Finland’ publication.

Penny wise, English foolish?

Finland’s growing integration of news in English comes as Copenhagen falls further behind other European cities when it comes to recruiting and retaining skilled foreign workers. A recent report by the think-tank Copenhagen Economics and the regional development organisation Reglab showed the Danish capital was struggling to compete with cities such as London, Brussels, Zurich, Vienna and Scandinavian rival Stockholm.

In that study, Copenhagen was rated particularly poor at being able to welcome foreigners and integrate them into society, leading many of them to leave after a short period of time. The average highly-skilled immigrant with a family stays in Denmark for eight years and contributes nearly two million kroner in taxes, the report found.

Tine Horwitz, the head of the Consortium for Global Talent – a joint initiative of the largest international companies based in Denmark, including AP Moller-Maersk, Carlsberg and Arla – said that the lack of an English-language television broadcast of the Danish news was a major hurdle in attracting and retaining foreign talent.

“English-language television broadcasts are so important to Denmark, and it is essential for working foreigners, who are here for short or long periods, to feel included at their work with their colleagues and with society in general.”

Horwitz has discussed the possibility of an English-language news broadcast with DR for over a year, and although the broadcaster has been positive, DR said it was a question of funding and the discussion died out.

“DR has an obligation to produce public news in English, and I find it embarrassing that we don’t have any, even if it were just once a day summarising the news in Denmark. It must be frustrating to live here as a non-Danish speaker and not be able to engage in society.”

Horwitz estimated that it would cost less than one million kroner to establish an English-language news broadcast – a service that would also benefit permanent immigrants adapting to society.

To be fair, the City of Copenhagen did, in 2009, begin funding a twice-daily news podcast produced by The Copenhagen Post. But that effort came about specifically as a way to accommodate people coming to the 2009 UN Climate Conference and it ended in early 2010.

A study by weekly news publication Ugebrevet A4 in January found that local councils could save over 600 million kroner a year by integrating their immigrants better and getting them into work. An essential aspect of integration is social inclusion – something that can be assisted by learning about what is occurring in society.

After a four-year absence, DR’s online foreign language service returned in 2009. News was initially offered in six languages, but Bosnian and Urdu were dropped due to low readership. Today, its news is available in English, Turkish, Somali and Arabic.