Here in Iceland there exists a narrow group of right-wing extremists who go to all sorts of lengths to propagate scaremongering and misinformation about various issues, including Iceland’s proposed membership to the European Union.
These people are primarily the so-called quota kings and people close to the Independence Party who have held power in Iceland for years and are loath to give it up. It would be refreshing if they actually had something intelligent to say; however, the main thrust of their propaganda is on such a base level that it’s pretty hard to take them seriously.
Their latest smear campaign was launched yesterday in an anonymous item yesterday on the website amx [their mouthpiece] entitled ESB kaupir hóp íslenskra blaðamanna, or in English: The EU buys a group of Icelandic journalists.
On first reading that article gave me the best laugh I’ve had in a long time. In it, the writer oozes indignation about the trip to Brussels that YT and several others went on last month. To wit:
The trip was paid for by the EU and was very luxurious. There was a stop-over in London, and guests were particularly encouraged to travel into the city. On arrival in Brussels the group stayed at a four-star hotel in a prime location. Meals, both lunch and dinner, were taken at expensive restaurants. No expense was spared, and the group was greeted with a welcome pack in their hotel rooms when they arrived in Brussels.
[amx] wonders whether those journalists who took the trip feel that they are credible? Should journalists accept trips from the European Union and then go home and pretend to be objective? What is the difference between journalists and commentators who accept gifts from the EU, and politicians who accepted gifts from the former tycoons? None of those who went on that trip has written about it publicly. I wonder why?
The trip had the same veneer as those trips that the útrásarfyrirtæki [companies owned by the former moguls] invited journalists on when the boom was at its height. Meetings were held in London and journalists who were invited there were waited on hand and foot. FL Group once left iPods in the rooms of journalists, which were theirs to keep. […]
Dang!! Really? An iPod? Man, I sure wish the EU had given me an iPod. But no — my splendiferous welcome pack only consisted of a paper folder that had a pad for writing, a ballpoint pen, a brochure and an USB key with info about the EU in it. Boo.
As for all the “luxury” — there, too, I wish amx had it right. But here’s the real story: our hotel was totally basic, with a very cramped lobby and two elevators that fit about two people each. My hotel key didn’t work properly so just about every time I went upstairs to my room I would have to run down again to have them fix it. The internet connection cost a fortune [i.e. was not free] and on top of that was slow and generally poor. There was no fitness room [annoying for a running addict like YT] and the breakfast room was small and vaguely kitsch. However, there was a machine in the lobby that polished your shoes if you pressed a button. Perhaps that counts or a couple of stars? — The hotel wasn’t in a “prime location” either, but right smack in the middle of EU-land, with not much more than EU office buildings, hotels and residential houses nearby.
I also got a laugh at the stopover in London that amx portrays as something über-desirable. You’d have to be wacko to think that a seven-hour layover in London is something to celebrate. In fact, the young woman who organized the trip was exceedingly apologetic about it [there was no other option since BA cabin crew were on strike so we had to take whatever flight was available] and did suggest that we head into town during those seven hours — presumably to save us from dying of boredom. Needless to say, that was at our own expense, as was everything during those two full days of travel [there and back].
As for the meals in expensive restaurants … well, yes, there was one decent meal in a good restaurant for lunch on that first day. For dinner that same day we had a buffet that was served in the breakfast room of the hotel and which was … adequate, shall we say. That was the extent of the EU’s provision of food for us journos … the following day we had dry sandwiches for lunch at the Icelandic Embassy, and in the evening we were on our own.
As for this: None of those who went on that trip has written about it publicly — clearly amx did not take time to read the Iceland Weather Report — if they did, they would have known that I mentioned that trip in several blog posts and made no secret of who paid for it. But to them the IWR is merely a blip* on their radar … I’m certainly not important enough to warrant my own smear campaign, like Lára Hanna and a couple of others. [Lára Hanna writes her own concise and thoughtful reply to their accusations on her blog today.]
Another consideration entirely, of course is whether it is acceptable for journalists or bloggers to accept invites of this nature. Personally, I had no problem with it. I chose to accept this trip because I didn’t feel I had enough information about the EU and Iceland’s application, and I wanted to find out more. Period. As a lowly blogger I could not have afforded to pay for it out of my own pocket, and the fact that the EU were footing the bill seemed perfectly fine to me since I didn’t for a moment believe they were doing this to push some sort of imagined agenda, as outlets like amx would like to have us believe. As far as I knew this was a routine part of Iceland’s application procedure, and I believe I was invited on the trip because this blog is one of the main and most visible sources of information out of Iceland.
I have written before about my experience of that trip and don’t need to repeat myself here. To me, it was fantastic to be able to ask questions and get straight, unbiased answers from individuals who were knowledgeable and well-informed. That sort of information has been sadly lacking here in Iceland, and being able to go there, see the EU institutions from the inside, meet the people who work there, confirm for myself that the EU is not some sort of ogre that eats poor little innocent countries like Iceland for breakfast … all of that was invaluable to me.
As to whether it would be right for Iceland to join the EU — I have no idea. My opinion in that regard has not changed from what it was before I left for Brussels: I will not be able to make up my mind until an informed and thorough discussion has taken place and a deal is on the table. By that time, Iceland’s — and Europe’s — circumstances may be different from what they are today. So, we shall see.
At any rate, amx looks like it may be on shaky ground with all their smearing: if a recent blog post is to be believed, two associations close to that camp have repeatedly facilitated press trips to Brussels, paid for by NATO. Glass houses, and all that.
* That’s one degree less than a bleep.