Minister's assistant's case against journalists could set "disastrous precedent"
On Wednesday, the organization Reporters Without Borders (RWB) issued a statement expressing its concerns with the perceived decline of freedom of information in Iceland during the last two years. Among matters of particular concern, the organization says it regrets that the Interior Minister’s assistant, Þórey Vilhjálmsdóttir, currently seeks the maximum possible libel penalty for two journalists at DV, saying that it “would set a disastrous precedent for freedom of information in Iceland.” They say that as the Ministry is in charge of human rights, Þórey “should be aware of her responsibilities in the domain of press freedom.”
Interior Ministry official against journalists
As reported, Þórey Vilhjálmsdóttir, the Interior Minister’s assistant, seeks the maximum sentence of two years, as well as damages, for two journalists who momentarily misidentified her as “employee B” in court documents related to the enduring case of the leaked Ministry memo. Within hours, the journalists issued a correction, as they realised that “employee B” referred to the Minister’s other assistant, Gísli Freyr Valdórsson. As RWB’s statement notes, Gísli Freyr is now on probation, having since confessed and been sentenced to eight months in prison for the leak.
In the statement, RWB joins the European Court of Human Rights and the International Press Institute in stressing the “extremely negative impact” of Iceland’s defamation law on journalists and freedom of information, as well as “the disproportionate nature of their penalties”. The organization “urges Iceland’s government to amend these laws”.
The organization cites numerous other reasons for concern, including the fact that “almost all of the leading media editors have had to stand down this year, with the noted exception of “Morgunblaðið editor David Oddsson, who happens to be a former prime minister and former central bank governor”; the way in which Foreign minister Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson “imposed his own conditions on RÚV, refusing to give it interviews unless it sends him a copy of video before it is broadcast”; threatening statements towards RÚV’s news room, issued by Vigdís Hauksdóttir, member of Alþingi on behalf of the Progressive party and budgetary committee chair; subsequent severe cuts in RÚV’s budget; a call made by that same Vigdís to readers and advertisers to boycott the web medium Kvennablaðið, after it published criticism of her — and more.
Criticized RÚV’s reporting, then cut its budget
In the case of RÚV, the organization claims that complaints about the broadcaster’s reporting lead to budget cuts, saying: “Between 2013 and 2014, the ruling right-wing coalition repeatedly criticized the treatment of the news coverage provide[d] by RÚV’s TV and radio channels, and used it as an excuse to reduce dramatically its budget”.
The statement further claims that government interference in news coverage is ongoing: “Indeed, the ruling coalition often questions the impartiality of the news coverage provide by RUV’s TV and radio channels, especially their coverage of European news. But a survey conducted by the consumer reporting agency Creditinfo found that positive and negative news reports about the European Union get equal space in RUV’s coverage.”
The whole statement can be read here.