Published September 1, 2015
Lára Hanna Einarsdóttir is not a journalist. In fact, the closest she’s come to journalism is doing subtitles for Stöð 2, a job she’s had since 1987. Yet, she has for a almost a decade now proved an important media resource for the people of Iceland, providing necessary context and information at crucial times, which corresponds awfully well to the role we ascribe to journalists. She does this by spending untold amounts of time diligently archiving numerous Icelandic media sources—primarily TV and radio—which she then digs up and uses to call out politicians and people in power when they contradict themselves or flat-out lie.
Her devoted archival efforts, it could be argued, amount to the sort of foundational journalism that few modern reporters can afford time and energy to engage in—and she does it all of her own accord, never earning a króna for it.
We spoke with Lára Hanna to learn more about what drives her.
How did this all get started?
I started blogging in November 2007, to fight against the building of a geothermal plant up in Hellisheiði, where they were going to effectively destroy an absolutely beautiful area in Iceland. I posted interviews with specialists and all kinds of people who weighed in on the environmental impact of the plant on the area. Then in March 2008, I believe, I began to record material off of television.
What sources do you collect and archive?
I record all the news. I archive the noon and evening news from RÚV radio and TV, Stöð 2, [media roundtable discussion shows] Silfur Egils, Kastljós and Ísland í dag, and a lot of others.
Why do you do it?
Memory. I had grown increasingly frustrated with other people’s—and my own—lack of memory. We forget what a politician said, and they get away with it when they contradict themselves. Videos are the most effective medium for showing people what a politician said, followed by hearing it, and then reading it. To read what someone said a number of years ago is one thing; it’s totally different when you see them on video saying it.
WHY TAKE POLITICIANS AT THEIR WORD?
What is perhaps the biggest example of doublespeak or contradiction you’ve uncovered?
Oh, that’s hard to say! The President [Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson] comes to mind. He’s selling Iceland abroad as a country that uses completely clean and renewable energy, and that’s just not true. [Geochemist] Stefán Arnórsson has been saying since before 2007 that it’s neither renewable nor clean. Also, the way former Left-Green chairperson Steingrímur J. Sigfússon completely changed his position about heavy industry once his party got into power. I compiled news clips from 2007, 2009 and 2013 into a single video to point out how he’s contradicted himself there.
They Like Lára!
We reached out to a few people in the news business to get their thoughts on Lára Hanna and her work. Here’s what they had to say:
Guðmundur Andri, writer and columnist
“Lára Hanna is a great example of how one person can accomplish a lot. She stands by the environment and human rights. There is no one more noble. She also makes sure to keep track of a wealth of news, and reminds us of the context that is missing. Every nation should have their own Lára Hanna.”
Heiða B. Heiðarsdóttir, co-founder of Stundin
In my mind, Lára Hanna is first and foremost a powerful social critic and journalist. She surpasses most of us in her ability to find, gather and contextualise information. Her work is very commendable, even though some will inevitably loathe the fact that records are being kept of their words and actions.
Helgi Seljan, journalist at Kastljós
Sounds like you’re doing the work of a journalist.
The thing is, when a politician says, “Oh, I never said that,” you can find out if they did or did not. I think that’s missing in the Icelandic media. The fact-checking, digging through video archives, instead of taking politicians at their word. The media began to do this sort of work a little bit shortly after the 2008 crash, but they hardly do it anymore—or far too rarely.
STRANGE FREAK BIRD
Seeing how many people in power you’ve called out, and how much attention it gets on social media, I guess it’s unsurprising that they would react to you.
I suppose not. [Conservative ideologue] Hannes Hólmsteinn called me a “furðufugl” [an old fashioned word meaning “strange bird”] once. [Laughs] And then there’s [Progressive MP] Vigdís Hauksdóttir, who recently called me a “freak.”
Yeah, what set her off?
I got one of these “on this day” buttons on my Facebook timeline, and one post was about Vigdís; about how she abuses power, saying things she can’t back up with facts, and accusing our national broadcasting of having a political agenda. So when I shared this two-year-old “on this day” post, I basically just added “every word of this is still true.” And she didn’t like that. But when I heard what she called me, I just laughed.
You mentioned earlier that Icelandic journalists were doing their digging on politicians shortly after the crash, but then not anymore. Why do you think they stopped?
Maybe they don’t have the time, or they aren’t given the time. Many of the more experienced ones are gone—either sacked or retired. You also have to have a pretty good sense of when something happened. I’ve spent three hours sometimes, digging through my own archives, just trying to find a single sentence someone uttered. But I should point out that some news sources—such as Kjarninn and Stundin, for example— are doing more of this, by linking to older news.
So where do you see yourself going with all this? You’re doing a journalist’s job, or doing the job for other journalists, for free. Could you see yourself joining up with a media outlet?
I doubt I could work as a journalist. I’m more the columnist type. I also have two websites, www.larahanna.is and www. malfrelsi.is. I bought the first one the day [former Independence Party chairperson] Davíð Oddsson became editor of Morgunblaðið. I might set up a blog on either site. Facebook disappears. You can’t search for things on it. I want other people to be able to access my posts for years to come.