From Iceland — Celebrate!


Published June 10, 2005


The last issue of the Grapevine was our most popular issue in the three-year history of the paper, by far. I give much of the credit to the writers, Þórdis Elva Þorvaldsdóttir Bachmann and Paul Nikolov, who again have prominent articles in this issue, especially. But I also have to give an enormous amount of credit to the business community at large who have been buying ads to pay our salaries and have done so without any stipulations or restrictions on our content.

Let me repeat that: none of our sponsors have restricted our content in any way. This has even provided some comic relief, as when, for this article, we discussed an advertiser’s services and the advertiser told us he really hoped we wouldn’t ridicule him. I asked if he was saying we weren’t allowed to, if it would affect the advertising. Nope. Without missing a beat he just said he hoped his services were good.

Freedom from the influence of advertisers may seem like a small thing, but in my years as a writer, especially working with independent papers, I have never experienced this much freedom.

Just as impressive, the political and public figures we have openly criticized have accepted our criticism, and have made themselves available for interviews so that we might criticize them all the more. (Whether they’re listening or considering changing their policy, we doubt, but we’re happy to at least get access to material.) For example, we have been extremely critical of the conservative Parliamentarian Bjarni Benediktsson, even joking that Satan, his long-time supporter, sometimes feels Mr. Benediktsson goes too far in his policies.

How has this conservative politician reacted to our criticism? He simply does his job. When we have questions about his policies or views, we email him, and he responds.

So advertisers believe in free speech. The people we criticize believe in free speech. Guess who doesn’t? In preparing for this issue, we received demands from two sources claiming to be a part of leftist causes that we print articles directly from their members: that we serve as uncritical mouthpieces for propaganda.

One of the sources that suggested we print propaganda is presented in this issue, with significant reservations on my part. After extended negotiations, we were able to convince a representative for the organization represented to allow the Grapevine to conduct its own interview. It came to Paul Nikolov to interview Olí Páll, who is organizing a protest of the Kárahnjúkar dam project. With jaw-dropping arrogance, a colleague of Olí Páll required that we submit the interview to make sure we covered what his organization wanted covered, and if the organization felt our tone was wrong, they would pull the article entirely. This same colleague then monitored the interview, interjecting and criticizing our journalist repeatedly over what, due to her interjections, became a three-hour interview.

Read the interview and make your own decisions. Obviously, the Kárahnjúkar dam project poses an enormous environmental risk for what many of us feel is far too little gain. On the other hand, it’s hard to feel sympathy for protestors who refuse to have their photo taken and who claim that any member of their own country is above the station of being a labourer.

I wish I could say this is the worst of the conduct we saw for this issue. It wasn’t. A similar group contacted us asking if they could conduct an interview with someone they felt was a significant documentary filmmaker, and would we simply give them half a page to run it. We refused, but asked for information on the filmmaker, who turned out to be a fifth-rate conspiracy theorist with a tendency to quote statistics like “63% of Canadians feel the US government was involved in the attacks on 9/11,” without naming the pesky details of who took such a survey, what the sample group was, and what the margin of error might be.

When we questioned the journalistic integrity behind making up statistics, we were immediately attacked—obviously we were typical Americans. We were even reminded that Americans bomb places in Asia. We were unable to resolve our differences.

We went through a period when we felt anger toward these organizations. We thought about the crippling effects these with-us-or-against-us spokespeople would have on environmental and anti-war efforts. What serves the right better than having opposition who come off as thugs? We can only hope that these members on the left, by no means representatives of the moderate left, but representatives of important grass roots elements, listen to criticism and change their unacceptable behaviour.

On an unrelated note, in the last issue, I suggested that, despite the many newspapers and magazines now delivered for free to every home in the country, there is no press in Iceland. In the weeks since that editorial, Fréttablaðið ran a world-class investigative piece on the privatization of the Icelandic banks and the cronyism involved. They have made a solid case against former Prime Minister Davíð Oddsson and active Prime Minister Halldór Ágrímsson. In addition, Morgunblaðið’s Lesbók ran a strong piece criticizing President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, formerly a socialist who gained popularity speaking out against worker exploitation, for promoting Iceland’s new trade agreement with rampant workers’ rights’ violators, China. The only thing that dampens my praise is the fact that few supporters of Mr. Oddsson turn to Fréttablaðið for journalism, and few supporters of President Grímsson expect objectivity from Morgunblaðið—both papers seem to have, essentially, been towing the party line. In this case, though, they have been fortunate to have excellent journalists and solid stories to use for their partisan efforts.

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