In the last post I wrote about the statement issued by the press unions in Scandinavia, in which they express their grave concern about the state of the media here in Iceland. They make particular mention of the fact that Davíð Oddsson was recently hired as editor-in-chief of Iceland’s oldest and most established newspaper, Morgunblaðið.
Some of you may remember the shock that reverberated throughout this society when Oddsson’s appointment was announced. After all, in-depth investigations are currently being conducted into the lead-up to the bank collapse, and Oddsson is one of the main players. Not only was he Head of the Board of Governors of the Central Bank when the collapse occurred, but previous to that had been Iceland’s longest-serving Prime Minister, responsible for implementing the free-market economy into Iceland that failed so spectacularly last autumn. How is a newspaper that he heads going to be able to write about the investigation in any sort of plausible way? How are the journalists on that paper supposed to do their jobs with him as their superior?
Oddsson – as I have written about numerous times on this blog – is a strange character in Icelandic society. He is a larger-than-life figure, very articulate, with a peculiar confidence and sharp wit. He is one of the strongest politicians this country has ever had, for better or for worse. He’s got a way of swaying people – some would say manipulate. Even his adversaries admit that he’s very shrewd. He’s also a control freak and loves to be the centre of attention. Make no mistake: Doddsson can discombombulate all of Icelandic society at the drop of a hat.
He also seems to be one of those unfortunate people who simply cannot admit that they’ve made a mistake. M. Scott Peck, who has written extensively about that sort of personality disorder, sums it up very nicely in his excellent book Further Along the Road Less Traveled: “Rather than using it [the evidence that points to imperfection] to make some kind of self-correction, they will instead – often at great expense of energy – set about trying to exterminate the evidence.”
In light of this, it is very alarming that Davíð Oddsson has been hired editor of the country’s oldest newspaper, the paper that for a while seemed to be gaining credibility as one of the most trustworthy media outlets in this country … that is, until the meltdown happened and new owners affiliated with the Independence Party took over. Immediately on Doddsson’s appointment, it became clear to many of us that he would use the opportunity to rewrite his part in this country’s meltdown – and we did not have to wait long.
That rewriting begins in subtle fashion over there. So subtle that you might be forgiven for not noticing. It begins with a seemingly innocuous pair of quotation marks.
On more than one occasion since Doddsson was hired, Morgunblaðið has put a pair of quotation marks around the word “hrun” – meaning collapse.
Here is one example, written on 19 November 2009. The article in question is a regular mini-editorial in Morgunblaðið called Staksteinar and does not have a byline. It does not take much to figure out who the writer is, however. The blurb is written in defense of Baldur Guðlaugsson, the good IP soldier who was the first individual to have his assets frozen as a result of the investigation into the bank collapse. The sentence in question – the insidious revising-of-history sentence – is this one [in the last paragraph]:
Stóra fréttin í þessu undarlega máli er auðvitað sú að 14 mánuðum eftir „hrun“ þá skuli fyrsta frystingin á fjármunum beinast að embættismanni úr fjármálaráðuneytinu.
The big news in this peculiar matter [that of Baldur Guðlaugsson] is, of course, that 14 months after the “collapse”, the first freezing of capital should be directed at a public official from the Ministry of Finance.
In Icelandic, as in English, a pair of quotation marks around a word is used to either give emphasis to that word, or to suggest that its meaning isn’t really what it purports to be. Morgunblaðið is clearly deploying the latter interpretation.
Evidently, the powers-that-be at Morgunblaðið are happy to refer to the economic collapse of Iceland as the economic “collapse”.
Like they don’t really believe there was a collapse. Like they’re just humouring the rest of us who do. Those of us who, unfortunately, feel it on our own skins, to a greater or lesser degree.
Illugi Jökulsson, one of Iceland’s sharpest commentators, wrote a brilliant blog post in the form of an open letter to Óskar Magnússon, publisher of Morgunblaðið, asking whether he shares the view of the author of Staksteinar about the “collapse”. [As far as I’m aware, he has not received an answer.]
He also muses what the subsequent steps at Morgunblaðið will be. Will the paper, say, begin to write about the so-called “collapse” in 2008 and, perhaps later, the alleged “collapse” in 2008 …?
Very valid questions, and very timely. And the Scandinavian press unions are obviously right to be worried about the state of the media here. Because propaganda and the revising of the facts rarely happens with fanfare. It is done quietly and subtly – for example with a pair of strategically-placed quotation marks.
BALMY AND BLUSTERY
It’s pretty warm, considering. Right now 7°C [45F] and it’s almost mid-December. We’ve had occasional raindrops today, too, although not enough to constitute a proper shower. The sun came up at 11.02 this morning, set at 3.35. The days are SO SHORT these days, and when it’s overcast like today, they are also very gloomy. Hanging on for the winter solstice on the 22nd.