Over four hundred people showed up at noon today in protest of the 39 immediate layoffs of lower- and middle-tier RÚV staff members. Protesters chanted “Our RÚV, Let’s Save RÚV,“ surrounding the building with locked hands, symbolically forming a shield wall around it.
“We were outraged by the layoffs and decided to do something,” said Valgerður Þóroddsdóttir, who organised the event with Arngunnur Árnadóttir. “We felt we had a personal stake in the affair as RÚV belongs to everyone, and it has reliably provided excellent in-depth journalism as well as upheld important cultural values.”
RÚV is facing cutbacks of 500 million ISK, but as reported, the budget has not yet been accepted and will likely see some changes from its first draft. Nevertheless, Páll Magnússon, the director of RÚV, pre-emptively decided to fire staff in order to meet the institution’s reduced budget.
“It’s hard not to see the cutbacks as politically fuelled,” said Valgerður, “especially after the recent comments, or rather threat, by Vigdís Hauksdóttir. Either way they reveal a strange prioritization on behalf of the government, as well as Páll Magnússon, who didn’t seem to feel compelled to reduce his own salary, or those of RÚV’s upper management, choosing instead to hollow out the organisation. It may very well be that Páll is only reacting to a situation the current government created, but the fact remains he reacted quite badly. His priorities, too, are clearly out of whack.”
Progressive Party and chairperson of budget committee Vigdís Hauksdóttir came under fire earlier in August for suggesting RÚV was biased in favour of the EU, and that an unnatural amount of money went to the broadcaster. Writer Eiríkur Guðmundsson suggested at the protest that the current government couldn’t afford a critical news broadcast.
Tempers were running hot both outside and within RÚV, as the Grapevine witnessed an angry exchange between Páll Magnússon and Kastljós reporter Helgi Seljan following a fiery staff meeting. From behind the security barricade, Páll berated Helgi, saying he should be ashamed of himself, and that he was “filth.” Helgi stormed off after calling Páll’s reactions childish, with Páll responding “it’s better to be childish than an asshole.”
Páll has since formally apologised to Helgi, citing anger issues that he is working on.
Páll has announced there will be an additional 21 layoffs.