A new bill being submitted to parliament by Minister of Culture and Education Katrín Jakobsdóttir has evoked a strong reaction from former editor of newspaper DV for “banning rough opinions”.
The bill, submitted by Minister of Education and Cultural Affairs Katrín Jakóbsdóttir, seeks to create a more competitive environment for media companies in Iceland. It has just been introduced for an initial vote, having not even gone to committee yet, but many conservatives are already criticizing the bill – despite the fact that they themselves submitted their own media bill, with the exact same purpose, in 2004. It was the first bill in Icelandic history that the president refused to sign into law.
Former editor of DV Jónas Kristjánsson criticized the bill in a column he wrote, focusing in particular on Article 27 of the bill, which bans “hate speech”, stating, “The media is not permitted to incite hatred based on gender, sexual orientation, religion, nationality, political opinions or cultural, financial or social status in society.”
“The law bans rough opinions,” he writes in part, “which ‘incite hatred’. That is a phrase that Big Brother loves to abuse. Better to have no rules about opinions and their execution. The law establishes a government editor under the name The Media Office. Why can’t we villify Mohammed or Katrín? Katrín is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
Jónas, as his time as editor of DV, was a staunch support of freedom of expression and the press, which he maintains to this day. He made the newspaper controversial for at times running news stories with little substantiation. In 2006, the paper ran the name and photo of a man who was accused – but not convicted – of sexually abusing two boys. After the man committed suicide, Jónas resigned as editor.
It should also be noted that Article 233(a) of the Icelandic Penal Code already bans hate speech, so the media bill does not change anything about Iceland’s hate speech laws, other than making the media more accountable for obeying them.