Published June 5, 2015
It has been one seriously eventful week for Icelandic media. In case you haven’t heard, I’m going to relay it for you here, because, wow. Just, wow.
On Tuesday morning, Vísir reported that two sisters—Hlín Einarsdóttir and Malín Brand—had been arrested on Friday for trying to extort millions of krónur from Iceland’s Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson. Yes, our Prime Minister!
Equally absurd is the fact that these sisters aren’t just a couple of junkies who resorted to a preposterous plan to get their next fix; they’re journalists! Hlín is a former editor of Bleikt.is, a sub-site of a media outlet owned by Vefpressan, and Malín is a journalist at Morgunblaðið, one of Iceland’s daily newspapers.
Naturally, we thought, for a couple of journalists to blackmail our Prime Minister, they must be sitting on some really damning information. We didn’t have much time to speculate about which one of the rumors about Sigmundur Davíð might be true before Kjarninn reported on the contents of the blackmail letter. Hlín had apparently threatened to make public information linking the PM to the purchase of DV by the aforementioned Vefpressan, whose largest stakeholder is Björn Ingi Hrafnsson. Given that Hlín is Björn Ingi’s former girlfriend, we thought, she must know something.
The following day, after the police released the sisters from custody, Malín called us, as well as a number of other media outlets, to say that she had not confessed to the crime, as some had reported. She denied having had any part in writing the letter, which was addressed to Sigmundur Davíð’s wife, and said she had simply accompanied her sister to pick up the money, at a lava field on the outskirts of Hafnarfjörður.
Since then, both our Prime Minister and Björn Ingi have come out to say that the reported contents of the blackmail letter—the former’s role in financing the latter’s takeover of DV—have no basis in reality.
What’s more, the editor of Menn.is, also owned by Vefpressan, has now pressed charges against the sisters for the same crime. He said he paid them 750,000 ISK about two months ago after Hlín threatened to charge him with rape. He reportedly had Malín provide him with a receipt, which she wrote on Morgunblaðið letterhead, to prove that he had paid and that they would not come back to him for more money.
On Thursday morning, as we put the final touches on this paper, the sisters had just been taken back into custody for further questioning, leaving us with a lot of questions about a scandal that has quite remarkably involved nearly every media outlet in Iceland: Was there any truth to their allegations? Did Malín lie about her involvement? And, regardless, how does scandal after scandal seem to bounce off our Prime Minister?
Whatever the truth turns out to be, in this particular media circus it is tough to tell who is the ringmaster and who are the clowns.
Here’s the .pdf version.