The DV editorial today is about the silencing that takes place in Icelandic society, specifically in the media. It provides a needed refresher of how things were here before the crash, when the media was owned by the oligarchs who went on to virtually bankrupt the country:
For example, many ministers from the Independence Party had their ministries terminate subscriptions to DV, as they were opposed to being written about in a critical way. Landsbanki, during the time of Björgólfur Guðmundsson [former main owner], imposed an advertising and subscription ban on DV. The sickness in society later became obvious. Parliament’s Special Investigation Committee into the Banking Collapse came to the conclusion that one of the main causes of Iceland’s economic collapse in 2008 was as a result of the overwhelming positive attitude and lack of criticism from the Icelandic media. For each “negative” news item about Landsbanki prior to the collapse there were, for instance, 12 to 13 positive ones. The problem was the the companies were writing their own news for the media. Four out of five news items in Icelandic media about the financial institutions were backed up with no independent research. The results were described in the SIC report: “The higher the ratio of news based on press releases, the more were positive. Conversely, the negative news items grew in tandem with analytical news reports from the media.”
Alarmingly, we seem to be returning to the same state of affairs as before. Despite its tabloid slant, DV is the only media outlet in Iceland that dares to be critical and analytical (RÚV sometimes does, but absolutely not often enough). The editorial goes on to say that we seem to be returning to a similar state of affairs. Most of the banks now refuse to advertise in DV because they don’t want to be “linked to negative reporting”. Meanwhile, they make a point of highlighting their alleged social responsibility. A fast-food outlet pulled all their adverts in DV because the paper reported on the negative effects of fast food – and went a step further by getting other fast food chains to also blacklist the paper.
The editorial mentions several more incidents, then remarks: “If [the paper] is punished for stating its opinion of sandwiches and pizzas, can people imagine what happens when more important issues are at stake – such as the complex commercial interests of those who own the companies?”
I know there are no easy answers, and this problem of the media is not limited to Iceland. But it is something we really, really need to be aware of. All of us, everywhere.