RÚV, the state-owned National Broadcasting Service, has not been censored by anyone yet. What is making people uncomfortable is that it is necessary to add a “yet” to the end of that sentence. Members of the ruling right-wing coalition government, made up of the Independence and Progressive parties, have suggested that RÚV’s news coverage is slanted against them.
Politicians are a paranoid bunch; plenty are just a hair breadth’s away from wearing tinfoil hats, tinfoil overalls and tinfoil jockstraps.
That has to get pretty sweaty. Two members of the Progressive Party have proposed measures in response to this perceived slant. Vigdís Hauksdóttir reacted to being quoted incorrectly on RÚV news by expressing the sentiment that “an abnormal amount of money goes into running RÚV, especially if they are not better journalists.” Which would be kind of funny if she had been joking and was not the head of parliament’s budget committee. Another proposal was put forth by Frosti Sigurjónsson, chair of the finance and business committee.
Wasn’t Frosti Sigurjónsson the Batman villain who kidnapped Miss Iceland?
You are thinking of Mr. Freeze. Frosti went on a RÚV talk show with novelist Hallgrímur Helgason, shortly after the author had read an essay on RÚV criticizing the Progressive Party. The MP did not take the jabs at his party with the good cheer of a person comfortable in power. During his ill-tempered exchange with the writer he said that it would be a good idea to create some kind of committee or institution that would ensure a proper balance in political perspective at RÚV.
Nothing wrong with fair and balanced… oh, I see the problem now.
In case there was any doubt about what he thought of RÚV, he founded a Facebook group in 2009 devoted to painting RÚV as a left-wing bogeyman. Given this background, it is quite uncomfortable that Illugi Gunnarsson, the Independence Party minister responsible for state media, put forth a legislative proposal to change the RÚV board from an independent body to one that is politically appointed.
Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean you don’t have the power to persecute your imaginary enemies.
So far there have been no concrete proposals, legislative or otherwise, to control the journalism of RÚV. However, to quote Spiderman, with great power comes great responsibility, and the Progressive Party has been busy using its new-found political power to shoot web-goo at the mouths of people whose words they do not like.
While they can threaten state-run media, the privately-owned media is surely beyond their control?
That is true, but the privately-owned media is in an even worse situation than public broadcasting. The largest media group, 365 miðlar, is owned by heavily indebted business tycoon Jón Ásgeir Jóhannesson. Fréttablaðið, its newspaper, has spent the last few months in upheaval. Many of its most highly regarded journalists have left after the instalment of a controversial new editor.
When government is too inefficient to censor the media, the market steps in.
The nadir of the new editor’s tenure came when Fréttablaðið had a deeply weird eight page pull-out obituary section devoted to its owner’s father, also a business tycoon. It included a photograph of him as a three-year-old, for instance. And the other daily newspaper, Morgunblaðið, is owned by other tycoons and edited by a former right-wing prime minister who has gone out of his way to bash RÚV’s journalism.
They’re simply serving the market for RÚV-bashing among right-wing politicians. What about other radio and TV stations?
The national ones who have dedicated reporters are also part of 365 miðlar and share editorial control. Its main TV station incidentally put together a special about the owner’s father passing too. And regional media do their best but they are very small operations, and the same goes for internet news-sites. The other print news media are either published weekly or less often, and many are struggling to survive financially.
Can you give me a glimmer of hope? I don’t mind being lied to.
RÚV has yet to show any signs of buckling under pressure and as a news-gathering operation it is without peer in Iceland. And that is because it is staffed by elves and cannot be vanquished by mere mortals, not even supervillain Mr. Freeze. That was a lie; elves would not stand a chance against blasts from a freeze gun. Though it is good you do not mind being lied to, because if the hardline parts of the current government get their way, that is what you might come to expect from Icelandic media.