The dispute over Sanremo Music Festival’s sign language performances


The Sanremo Music Festival, a popular song contest in Italy that helped launch the career of several prominent musicians in the country, began offering sign language accommodations in 2020. 

This year, however, a dispute between the festival’s broadcaster Radiotelevisione italiana (RAI) and sign language performers over fair payment for their work has led festival organizers to stop offering an Italian Sign Language (LIS, from the Italian terminology, “lingua italiana dei segni”) version of the festival. The 2022 festival began Feb. 1, and will go on until Feb. 5.

“I created ‘Sanremo in LIS,’ receiving €5,000 for the whole workload. I requested a raise and (RAI) requested the copyrights,” said Laura Santarelli in an interview with Italian news agency la Repubblica (link is in Italian). “I refused, and in turn, there will be no ‘Sanremo in SIL’ this year.”

In 2020 and 2021, Sanremo in LIS featured LIS interpreters who conveyed the message of each song entry to Italy’s deaf community, using the facial expressions, hand gestures, and other features of the language. Santarelli’s efforts to organize Sanremo in LIS included listening to each song entry, devising an LIS translation, and assigning each song to LIS performers, among other responsibilities — her efforts made Sanremo Music Festival accessible to Italy’s roughly 120,000 deaf individuals who use LIS as their primary language.

According to Santarelli, who worked as Sanremo in LIS’s artistic director for the festival’s 2020 and 2021 iterations, the workload involved in planning the SIL interpretations was quite heavy and worth more than just €5,000, which is equivalent to a little bit more than $5,600. For context, Sanremo Music Festival raked in more than €40 million in advertising revenue in 2019, or a little under $45 million.

Following the 2020 debut of Sanremo in LIS, the Eurovision Song Contest — which was originally inspired by the Sanremo Music Festival — successfully introduced sign language performances to make the show more accessible to the deaf community.

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Andrew Warner
Andrew Warner is a writer from Sacramento. He received his B.A. in linguistics and English from UCLA and is currently working toward an M.A. in applied linguistics at Columbia University. His writing has been published in Language Magazine, Sactown Magazine, and The Takeout.

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