Occasionally I get asked stuff on the IWR Facebook page that I feel needs to be answered publicly so that more people can see the answer [whether they, um, want to or not]. That was the case yesterday, when a question came that I decided to answer not in a message, and not even on the page itself, but right here on the blog. I guess that makes it a Very Important Question [or, perhaps more accurately, a question that I plan to answer in lengthy, elaborate, excruciating detail].
Anyway, the question:
Góðan daginn, Alda! I very much enjoy the insights I gain from following your page, as it allows me to keep what little tabs I can on your beautiful country in the north. But I’m curious: What news do you read/listen to in Iceland? As I would like to learn your language, I think teaching myself to navigate your media would make for a good learning experience, though I want to make sure what I read and hear is worth its salt, and not some mouthpiece from the new government. I figured you would be the best person to steer me in the right direction, and I thank you in advance for my inquiry. ~ Kyle
A good question indeed! And commendable that Kyle wants to not only focus on the linguistic aspect of learning, but also the social and political aspect behind the news. That said, the media can be pretty tricky to sift through even for those who live here, unless you’re well plugged in to the current ownership status, not to mention all the political intrigues that are going on.
In general, the Icelandic media is suffering from the same problematic trend as media all over the world – competing with the Internet, the losses in revenue that this entails, and struggling to stay independent and objective. Unfortunately, almost all of the Icelandic media is tainted by their ownership, and those of us who live here consume the news with our own particular filter, usually knowing the status behind it. That said, there are many excellent journalists and broadcasters here, who do their best under difficult circumstances, often having to bow to the particular agenda of their editors/bosses.
Iceland has four main newspapers: Morgunblaðið, Fréttablaðið, DV and Fréttatíminn.
Morgunblaðið. Also known to us here at the Weather Report as Morgunblather. Iceland’s oldest and most established newspaper, which used to have a lot of respect and goodwill. Sadly, over time it became the mouthpiece of the Independence Party and after the collapse was bought by the quota barons, who hired Davíð Oddsson, architect of the economic collapse and one of Iceland’s most powerful [and controversial] politicians ever, as editor. There he now sits and hurls abuse at his opponents in between rewriting history and exonerating himself of all blame for the collapse. I never buy Morgunblather any more, except when I want to read an obituary about someone [they sort of have the obituary market cornered – an Icelandic phenomenon that I discuss in more detail in my Little Book of the Icelanders]. Their basic news items are usually pretty harmless, but I wouldn’t believe anything I read in any of their editorials. Their online site is mbl.is.
Fréttablaðið. Delivered free to all households in the capital area six times a week. Owned [let me rephrase that – “owned”] by the wife of Jón Ásgeir Jóhannesson, one of the “outvasion Vikings” and moguls who nearly bankrupted Iceland in the meltdown. Jón Ásgeir used to own Fréttablaðið, until he got into some pesky financial trouble and ownership was conveniently transferred to his wife. He also owned one of the banks that collapsed and has a very shady business history, to put it mildly. His wife employs him at the paper [well actually at 365 Media Corporation, of which Fréttablaðið is a part] as a “special advisor”, earning a salary that is about double or triple the monthly salary of a journo. His attempts to influence news reporting, particularly of his own activities, have frequently been in the headlines. In fact, Fréttablaðið has recently gone through a major cleansing, with several good people resigning or being fired in the wake of just such a revelation. A new chief editor was installed that is rumoured to be string puppet. While Fréttablaðið has one or two good columnists, it’s simply not a very interesting publication – deliberately vapid with hardly any investigative journalism at all, and loads of advertorials. Their online presence is visir.is.
DV. The closest thing Iceland has to both a tabloid and a credible newspaper, paradoxically enough. They sometimes venture precariously far into rag paper territory, yet they are the only paper that does any kind of investigative journalism. DV is the only Icelandic paper I freely subscribe to [their web edition, that is] simply because I want to support their efforts at being independent and generally pissing off the establishment. Their online presence is dv.is.
Fréttatíminn. A weekly paper that is more like a magazine, with human-interest stories and stuff. Very harmless, fairly insipid, but can also be interesting. Delivered free to all households in the capital.
The only two TV stations with a newsroom are RÚV and Stöð 2 (Channel 2).
RÚV. The state broadcaster, and the media outlet that most Icelanders trust. And so we should – we own it. In the past there were issues surrounding the autonomy of RÚV – the board was politically appointed and the party or parties in power installed their people in all the key positions. Then a few years ago the operational structure of RÚV was changed to make it less susceptible to political whims. This worked fine, and raised the credibility level of RÚV substantially. But alas – since the Icelanders voted the IP and PP back into power, a law has been passed to, once again, have the board of RÚV politically appointed. [Yep – they wasted no time on that, while their main election promise, to help those beleagued by household debt, was swiftly put to a committee where it will snooze for an indefinite length of time]. There has been much commotion over this, plus a few related issues, in the last couple of weeks. I sincerely hope that RÚV continues to be independent in its work, but am prepared for anything. Their newsroom is so-so, but their best investigative work is carried out by current affairs programme Kastljós – and particularly one broadcaster who was unceremoniously fired by 365 Media after the collapse. Their online presence is ruv.is.
Stöð 2. Part of 365 Media Corp. [see above]. Their newsroom covers the basic issues and leans towards sensationalism. News programs have been dumbed-down in the last few years, they got rid of an excellent investigative programme [see above], and now do bland semi-human-interest stuff.
RÚV. They broadcast on two stations, RÚV 1 and 2. Their newsroom works in conjunction with the TV newsroom to produce news. They have a good news analysis programme called Spegillinn that runs on both RÚV stations at 6.15 pm every weekday. Apart from that, they have lots of good programming on all sorts of issues, both talk radio and radio shows, available as podcasts here. You can also listen to [and watch] RÚV online.
365. They have a bunch of radio stations, from their flagship Bylgjan to golden-oldie type of stuff, but none of it is at all interesting in my opinion, save for perhaps one show called Harmageddon that runs weekdays in the afternoon, and presents topical stuff to a young-ish audience.
As for what media I follow, I usually make an online round of ruv.is, visir.is and dv.is – in that order – a couple times a day. I usually have the evening news turned on while I’m making dinner, and then always RÚV, although I’ll listen to/watch the Channel 2 news if I’m running a bit ahead of schedule [their news airs half an hour before the RÚV TV news]. And I tend to flip through Fréttablaðið while I’m eating breakfast, simply because it’s there. All this said, possibly my best source for topical stories is Facebook – my news feed usually gives me the best that is being written on any particular topic, plus people’s commentary on it.
I know I’ve probably left out some media that others like – there are regional papers, for example, and a few online sites that I haven’t mentioned, like Eyjan and Pressan [also under dubious ownership]. I’d love your input, so if anyone wants to discuss or add anything, please visit our Facebook page and add your comments.
[photo nicked here.]