Published April 10, 2015
There are two daily newspapers published in Iceland.
Each is owned and operated by a powerful interest group.
To grossly simplify an already gross affair:
Fréttablaðið is the domain of the remnants of the once dominant Baugur empire of one Jón Ásgeir Jóhannesson (see: economic collapse). They recently instated their disgraced corporation’s former PR officer, Kristín Þorsteinsdóttir, to the post of Editor In Chief.
Morgunblaðið is owned by some of the largest stakeholders in Iceland’s divisive fishing quota system. To run their newspaper, they drafted in a former Prime Minister-slash-former Central Bank governor, The Man Who Privatized Iceland, Davíð Oddsson.
Morgunblaðið, Iceland’s oldest operating media entity (and once its most respected), does not divulge its subscription numbers, or its circulation. However, there are many indications that it has very few subscribers, and that its newsstand sales are negligible.
Fréttablaðið is distributed to every household in the greater Reykjavík area, free of charge. Aside from making for an excellent pitch to advertisers, this is also an excellent means of disseminating information to the public. They’ve got a good thing going.
Baugur and affiliates spent hundreds of millions of krónur establishing and operating Fréttablaðið in the ‘00s, rarely turning a profit, if ever. Although in serious debt, Fréttablaðið’s owner, 365 Media, has reportedly turned a profit over the last four years. It is highly doubtful that the people who funded Fréttablaðið and kept it going through the years ever recouped their investment. Perhaps that was never their intent.
Morgunblaðið is run at a loss, and has been. For years.
For whatever reason, certain parties see a benefit in subsidizing the publication of newspapers that consistently haemorrhage money.
Both of Iceland’s daily newspapers work diligently at promoting and protecting their owners’ interests, as you may discern from what they choose to report on—and not report on.
Take Fréttablaðið. While newspapers all over the world have lauded Iceland for the way it has handled the financial crisis, touting, sometimes overzealously, the fact that some of the bankers responsible for bringing the country to its knees in 2008 have been jailed, Kristín Þorsteinsdóttir repeatedly casts doubt on Iceland’s approach.
In an opinion piece entitled “Are We Worse Than Other People?”, she suggested that Iceland’s courts are not well enough equipped to properly assess who might be responsible for their economic crisis, and that the nation should instead take an anthropological approach (!) to understanding what happened, so that we can learn from our mistakes.
Since taking over as editor, there has been more of the same. In an April 4 editorial, Kristín suggested that the Special Prosecutor had lied about not knowing that one of the judges in an ongoing case involving the aforementioned Jón Ásgeir was actually the brother of Ólafur Ólafsson, a sentenced bankster. Disappointed that the Supreme Court did not find this fact relevant to the case, she said that this could not be the end of it and concluded that it’s now the media’s turn. Turn to do what?
Three days later, Fréttablaðið ran a front-page article that sought to discredit the Supreme Court judgments in the recent Al Thani case (see: Bankers Behind Bars), quoting heavily from an opinion piece in that same issue, which was written by Ólafur’s wife, who believes her husband was wrongfully sentenced due to a misunderstanding. The article’s only other source was Ólafur’s lawyer. Meanwhile, the prosecutor in the case, who was obviously willing to comment, was left to do so elsewhere.
So why is Kristín seemingly so opposed to Iceland’s Special Prosecutor and his mission to investigate the financial crimes that resulted in a collapse that nearly bankrupted the nation, and that we are still paying for? It might have something to do with the fact that the primary owner of 365 Media, which owns Fréttablaðið, is married to Jón Ásgeir Jóhannesson. Yes, former CEO and President of Baugur Group Jón Ásgeir Jóhannesson. Who the Special Prosecutor has charged with several financial crimes leading up to the collapse. Who remains under investigation. Who awaits a verdict.
In other words, while Jón Ásgeir, the former boss of Fréttablaðið’s editor, and husband of the current boss of Fréttablaðið’s editor, awaits possible trial and sentencing, Fréttablaðið hacks away with glee and abandon at the credibility of court cases against former banksters.
Funny how that works out.
As their fortune is entirely dependent on Iceland’s deeply-flawed fishing quota system, Morgunblaðið’s owners have a vested interest in maintaining the pre-collapse status quo. To that end, their newspaper has devoted the past six years to vehemently fighting any motion that would reform the system (such as by writing a new constitution) or place it in jeopardy (such as joining the EU).
This blatantly obvious agenda is second only to the editor’s fantastical attempts to rewrite recent history, so as to diminish his undeniable role in causing Iceland’s near-bankruptcy.
All of this is of course absurdly funny. But, it’s dead serious. As they struggle to retain power and influence, the two interest groups actively corrode Icelandic society, sabotaging our democracy, discourse and culture.
Several parties have made attempts to subvert this development. For instance by establishing new media entities, often online, that seek funding through subscribers and ad revenue. There are several such ventures operating at the moment, Kjarninn and Stundin chief among them.
Theirs is an uphill battle, fought in a hostile environment, as their competitors—the two newspapers—lord over the market by power of their sheer magnitude, enabled by parties of interest that see a benefit in funding their continued existence without regard to their ability to turn a profit.