From Iceland — An Interview with Arna Schram, President of the Icelandic Journalists Union

An Interview with Arna Schram, President of the Icelandic Journalists Union

Published October 2, 2005

An Interview with Arna Schram, President of the Icelandic Journalists Union

What is the position of the Icelandic Journalists Union regarding the gag order on Fréttablaðið [regarding e-mails from Jónína Benediktsdóttir related to the Baugur case]?

Jónína Benediktsdóttir had a private affair against Fréttablaðið. The union does not want the police commissioner or any authorities coming into the editorial office of a newspaper, as we believe this could jeopardize freedom of the press in this country. This also ties in with the safekeeping of news sources.

Do you believe, as some have contended, that Icelandic authorities are on a “crusade” against the media?

Sometimes it looks like it. Politicians from the governmental parties have, for example, criticized the media, implying that it needs to be reviewed or regulated better, without giving specific examples of what needs changing. This gives the impression that journalists here are writing for some other reason than to report the news. At the same time, I’m not saying that the media is above criticism. But if the criticism is not founded then it must be regarded as insinuation.

There’s been some talk of re-introducing a media bill. Do you think this would be a good idea?

The union was against the media bill of 2004, because we thought that the bill included much stricter rules than one can find in many other European countries. And we thought that the government was going to push it through Alþingi without wide and open discussion in this country. [The bill was passed in parliament but was not made into law because the president didn’t sign it.] We, in a large meeting in 2004, encouraged an open discussion in the community about media ownership, with a possible media law in mind. But a media law may not be so strict that it could for example hinder new media from coming into the market.

What was your overall impression of the conference on journalist ethics earlier this month?

I was happy that we could come together with different opinions and talk openly. There were of course those with very different ideas regarding ethical rules. I think we should have rules, and an ethics committee, but I want to try to reconsider the rules and find some resolution that all of us can agree on. I certainly believe that we should guard free speech, but that also means taking responsibility for what you write and print.

Are there any changes that you would personally like to make to the ethics guidelines?

No, not really. I don’t want to go into the review with my mind already made up about what I do and don’t want to see. I want to review all of it. I’d like to have an open discussion on the possible changes we can make.

What do you think the Icelandic media is doing right, and where do you think it can improve?

I have to admit that we have quite a diverse media in this country, and I think it’s good how different the media outlets are from each other, but I sometimes feel as though we keep following the same stories. One thing I would like to see changes in is in the relationship between advertisers and the editorial office. I think we should know if the media is paid to talk about something.

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