Published May 6, 2011
Hi! Happy Harpa! I hope you find whatever it is you’re looking for in that house, and that you take some time read our massive and exclusive interview with Ólafur Elíasson concerning his contribution to it (page 16http://issuu.com/rvkgrapevine/docs/issue5). My own personal conclusion is that THE COLLAPSE was in a sense fortunate, if not only for the fact that it seems to have prevented the Björgólfurs of the world from further transforming 101 Reykjavík into an elfin Disneyland mall (one of the thing Ólafur says is that pre-collapse there was much pressure to get rid of the ‘music’ bit from the ‘music hall’). We still have the puffin shops to contend with. Bah.
Now. Iceland finally has a ‘media law’! It’s all confusing and dumb and ill-founded (it really is—read it!), but still, we now have a concert hall AND a purported law that deals with our purported media!
However, I am unsure whether it applies to Grapevine, since we probably don’t count as part of ‘the media’. The thought of that made me rage with envy.
I thus drafted GRAPEVINE’S FANCY NEW MEDIA LAW. It is mostly based on an opinion piece I wrote for Grapevine back when I was a young, starry-eyed sometimes-reporter (issue 6, 2008), which was mostly written in response to an interview I had conducted with aspiring populist MP Magnús ór Hafsteinsson.
Our FANCY NEW MEDIA LAW has no legal standing, it is vague and parts of it don’t make any sense whatsoever. But it’s written with good intentions, and some of it sounds fairly rational. It is thus pretty much on par with Law no. 38/2011.
If you are a regular contributor to the Grapevine, or plan on being one, you should read the below and memorise it. Failure to do so will not have any consequences whatsoever, but then that’s life.
GV Fancy Law no. 1/2011
The below is true:
-A reporter should strive to be fair and balanced.
-She should never let her own views and opinions colour her reports, articles or interviews.
-And she should strive to always include every relevant viewpoint in a report, so that her readers may make an enlightened, informed decision as to where they stand on a given topic.
-And she should always give her subject the benefit of the doubt, no matter how contrived, conceited or downright dumb her views may be. If they are indeed contrived, conceited and dumb, if they are plainly wrong, self-serving or hurtful, the reader will be able to figure that out by herself.
The above is true, and it should be self-evident, even though it is not always practiced by every member of the press. As a sometimes-reporter, I try and go by it, and it’s usually pretty easy. Sometimes it’s difficult, however. Say when conducting a Q&A with a person that’s presenting a view that at its core goes against everything I believe, in a way that my conscience finds potentially harmful. A Q&A, where the format doesn’t allow for you to invite adversaries to comment or reply to what’s being stated as truth.
As a reporter, you let your subjects speak their minds, then subject them to the esteemed reader’s judgement, letting them dig their own graves if they so choose. That should be that, but what if you are dealing with a master rhetorician, one who says one thing whilst clearly implying another. One who seems clearly interested in fanning certain flames, say, for his own purposes, but doing so in such a vague and fuzzy manner that he can never be called on it.
As a reporter, I have occasionally come across people who clearly presented foul agendas that they couldn’t be called on, because they knowingly refuse to call a spade a spade. Hah.
And sometimes, I’ve had no choice but to let their quotes stand unchallenged, hoping that someone will write an intelligent letter to the editor opposing it in the next issue of whatever publication has printed it. Sometimes, I have argued with these people mid-interview – “just say what we all know you want to say” – and cut it out of the final story, for I should not present an opinion in my reports.
But this is an opinion column a media law, not a news report. So I can allow myself to be as biased and unfair as I want to. In that grand spirit, here is a list of things I currently believe, in no particular order, followed by a much shorter list of things I know to be true.
List of things I believe:
1) I believe that people in general are thoughtful and well intentioned.
2) I believe that while the above is true, thoughtful and well-intentioned people may be manipulated to support irrational (and sometimes dangerous) agendas. Just look at advertising, and advertising psychology (sidenote: I also believe “psychological methods to sell should be destroyed”).
3) I believe this to be especially true when an apparent crisis strikes—when people start fearing for their livelihoods and safety. An economic one, for instance.
4) I believe fear is a key ingredient in this regard.
5) I believe a certain breed of career politician—the populist, opportunistic kind—will try and harness the above for the sake of their various careers and/or agendas.
6) I believe that promoting fear and anger in the general populace for ones own self-serving purposes is not only morally deplorable, I believe that it is outright evil.
7) I believe that you can express overtly racist views without using overtly racist lingo.
8) I likewise believe that you can be a fascist whilst denouncing fascism, that you can be a Nazi without sporting a swastika.
9) I believe that if the Western hemisphere were to enter an era where fascism, Nazism and racism were acceptable anew (if it hasn’t already), those isms would not go under any of their former monikers. That a Hitler for the 21st century, if that fellow ever shows up, will not necessarily sport a funny moustache and a German accent (or a funny beard and a turban for that matter).
10) Finally, I believe that as my fellow Icelanders and I were born in one of the most prosperous countries on Earth, we have a huge responsibility to the millions of humans who weren’t—and suffer for it every day. I believe the same goes for the rest of the world’s hyper-privileged contingent.
List of things I know to be true:
1) It is true that thirty Serbian and Croatian refugees welcomed in my hometown of Ísafjörur back in 1996, during a long and painful bout of recession for the town, were a fine and welcome addition to the population. I shared a class with some of them, and even though a couple had to go through the trouble of acquainting themselves with the Western alphabet, none of them have thus far turned to crime or otherwise tried to tear down the fabric of our great society.
2) It is true that the welcoming of other such groups of refugees to other such small towns in Iceland over the last decade has been nothing less than a complete success.
3) It is true that at the time of writing, Iceland is one of the richest, most prosperous nations on Earth [is this less true now than in June 2008? That might be, but we’re still pretty damn prosperous].
4) It is nevertheless true that, Iceland’s track record of welcoming refugees from war-torn or famine struck regions of the world is deplorable. The nation hasn’t been up to speed in providing aid to those territories, either.
Alright! So there you have it, Grapevine’s Fancy New Media Law in all its glory! Do let us know if you notice us blatantly going against the bits of it that make sense, we’ve yet to establish our MEDIA POLICE JUSTICE SQUAD TASKFORCE.