Last week, the journalists’ unions in Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland issued a formal statement expressing deep concern about the state of the media here in Iceland.
The statement outlines their view that freedom of the press and freedom of speech have recently been under attack in Iceland. This based on the fact that a host of experienced journalists and reporters have been laid off, most notably by Morgunblaðið, Iceland’s oldest and most established paper. The owners of Morgunblaðið recently appointed Davíð Oddsson, former Director of the Central Bank and ex-PM of Iceland, editor-in-chief [I wrote about this here]. As one of the main players in the Icelandic meltdown, Oddsson is currently being investigated in connection with the collapse.
The statement goes on to cite the critical importance of a free and independent media in Iceland, especially at this time. It also expresses particular concern that leading members of the Icelandic journalists’ union are among those who have been let go [including the head of the union, who was dismissed when Doddsson took over at Morgunblaðið] and that, when they try to defend their colleagues, they are accused of serving their own interests. The statement ends with the proclamation that it is the obligation of the press unions making the statement to speak up when freedom of the press and freedom of speech is under fire in their neighbouring countries.
The impact of the statement was felt around here immediately. Blogs buzzed, as did Facebook. The prevailing feelings among most Icelanders were gratitude and relief. You know how, when you’re living inside a dysfunctional system, and someone comes from the outside and validates that for you, how great that feels? It was like that. That little gesture of support from the outside was like a shot in the arm.
Indeed, the scenario they describe is spot-on and maybe even worse than they know [I’ll elaborate in the next post]. It’s strange being inside of it. However, it’s something we’ve learned to live with here, probably much the same as people in the former East Bloc learned to live with their state-controlled media – the difference being that our state-controlled media [RÚV] is the one that most people trust today, as opposed to the privately-run media.
Iceland has two daily newspapers – Fréttablaðið and Morgunblaðið. In addition, there is DV which is published three times a week if I’m not mistaken, and Viðskiptablaðið, a business paper that is now solely online. Of those, the two former are the most prominent. Fréttablaðið is owned by Jón Ásgeir Jóhannesson of Baugur Group and his clan, and is delivered free to all households in the capital area, and distributed free to select locations outside the capital. Morgunblaðið is a subscription paper; it was traditionally the mouthpiece of the Independence Party but over the past decade or so moved away from partisan lines and became a necessary antidote to Fréttablaðið, that is until the appointment of Doddsson flushed its credibility down the toilet.
And so, we read our newspapers with filters here. Everyone I know does, because everyone knows just what interests lie behind every paper. Personally I don’t use the print media for anything more than light diversion.* I flip through Fréttablaðið in the morning while I’m having my breakfast since, well, most of it is fluff anyway. The only things I really read are the daily columns written by noteworthy experts such as Þorvaldur Gylfason, and the occasional editorial. Morgunblaðið I never see any more since I was one of the thousands of people who canceled their subscription when Doddsson was appointed, and I only log on to mbl.is when I absolutely have to. DV I don’t shell out for [although they have been doing some good things in investigative reporting in the last while] and Viðskiptablaðið I don’t pay to read, either.
Predictably, Morgunblaðið served up an antagonistic reaction to the abovementioned statement. It ran a generic news item about it initially, then followed up by a short interview with the publisher, Óskar Magnússon, who oozed indignation and went on to discredit the unions and insinuate that they had been fed propaganda by their Icelandic colleagues. Sigh. So predictable these people, in their feeble protestations.
Surely someone will now turn up in the comments and point out that the Independence Party**, which is now – again – in bed with Morgunblaðið, has regained all the support it lost right after the meltdown last year. And they will be right. The IP is currently in the opposition and is doing its best to thwart just about every little gesture the government makes towards recovery — and because the current government has to make all the painfully unpopular decisions, it is losing support. And that support is — astonishingly enough — returning to the meltdown party. And they’ve got Doddsson over at Morgunblaðið, rewriting history. But more on that tomorrow.
IT’S BALMY AND BEAUTIFUL
On this first day of the Copenhagen climate change summit. Temps hovering around the freezing mark and hardly any wind. Today around 3pm there was the most incredible sunset happening over in the west … I love these long, drawn-out sunsets that we get here in the winter. They are truly amazing. Right now it’s 1°C [34F]. Sunrise was at 10.59 this morning, and the sun set at 3.37 pm.
* Which seems to be the fate of much of the print media these days, anywhere in the world.
** Independence Party – the party that was most instrumental in leading Iceland down the path of no return.