It’s safe to say that there is major turbulence in Icelandic society today after a particularly devastating front-page story in trash-tabloid DV yesterday.
DV is one of four daily papers published in Iceland. A couple of years ago it was in dire straits when the oft-cited Baugur Group came riding along on its white steed and rescued it from imminent bankruptcy. [They’ve done the same thing with numerous media here over the past few years.] A new editor was appointed and DV very consciously formed a policy to take the standard of Icelandic news reporting down to new levels. The operating word being ‘down’. It started by publishing names and photographs of suspected criminals and gradually took that tactic further and further, cutting closer to the quick every time.
This is questionable journalism under any circumstances, but here in Iceland, as you can imagine, it can be devastating to those who are the ‘victims’ of DV. I’m not merely talking about the human tragedies that get taken down to new sordid levels – I’m also talking about the people who love and care for those who have been exposed – rightly or wrongly – by DV. There are a lot of families in this society who have been innocent victims of DV’s ‘reporting’ – because here you cannot just vanish into the crowd. Every day you will have to face people who know the most difficult, agonising details of your life.
Furthermore, DV employs some disgusting tactics. Accosting on the street the mothers of sons who have been accused or are reported to have been accused, calling people up to get a comment on something or other and telling them point-blank that if they don’t comment, they’ll simply make something up. A few months ago a friend of mine was over for dinner. She is a prominent person in the community and she’d been involved in a nasty matter involving a psychopath who had basically taken her to the cleaners in a business transaction. In the middle of dinner, her cell rang. She went into the other room and stayed there for half an hour on the phone, while the rest of us finished eating. We thought it was rather strange; however, when she came back she told us that DV had been calling and they were planning to publish a story the next day. She had to talk to them, otherwise they would have gone ahead and published the facts as they saw fit. So she was basically taken hostage for half an hour at a dinner party.
So while the nation has grown ever-more outraged at DV’s ‘public executions’, there’s also been a creeping, subversive trend – namely, with each outrage, there’s a little more numbness. Each time there’s a screaming, sensational, dirty, nasty headline, you sort of grow a little more blasé about it. Which is why yesterday’s headline screaming from the front page – plus photo – warranted barely a second glance from YT: One-Armed Teacher Said to Have Raped Young Boys.
It’s a pretty ugly headline, all right. And I’m ashamed to admit that I barely gave it a second thought. As I’m sure was the case with a lot of people.
Until today. That man committed suicide last night. He was from a small community – Ísafjörður on the northwest coast, population around 3,200. His death sent a shockwave throughout all of Iceland. He had not been indicted. He had not been tried. He had not even confessed. He left a note proclaiming his innocence and saying that he couldn’t deal with being dragged through the dirt.
Maybe he was guilty. Maybe he was not. It doesn’t matter: the point is that he was never even given a chance, and in a civilized society, people must be given a chance. They are innocent until proven guilty. In societies where the courts are not up to the job, perhaps it is justifiable for the media to practice journalism of this nature – dragging ‘the truth out into the open’ as the DV editors keep banging on about. ‘Daring to speak while others stay silent’, as their slogan proclaims. Isn’t it ironic, then, that in societies where the courts are capable of doing their jobs, media like that tends to execute people without even a chance at a fair trial?
So there’s been mass outrage, all day long. The general public, politicians, other media – the whole country is at the boiling point. People have had enough. ‘Mass hysteria’ says the DV editor, effectively dismissing a completely justifiable and may I say perfectly healthy reaction. E-mails passed through the Icelandic nation like wildfire, urging people to sign a petition online which demanded that DV review their editorial policy. Between noon and 4 pm, 13,000 people signed. Just before 4 pm, people were signing at the rate of one per second and the website crashed. It’s up and running again, so if you’re a resident of Iceland and you’re reading this and you haven’t signed it yet, go here and make your voice heard. And most importantly: BOYCOTT DV! DO NOT BUY IT – and consider doing what YT has decided to do and not even reading it – not even at the dentists’ office. Make a concerted effort to ignore it and maybe it will go away.
I could probably go on about this a lot longer, who should or should not be made responsible, what the leaders of this country have to say, etc. – but this is getting a bit lengthy for a blog post. There’s a beautiful saying in Icelandic: ‘Aðgát skal höfð í nærveru sálar’, which essentially means: ‘Care should be taken in the presence of another soul.’ I think this is good for everyone to keep in mind – most certainly the vultures who tear people to bits in order to sell a few cheap copies of their paper.
Regular reporting will resume tomorrow. Too incensed to deal with mundane things like the weather. Good Day!