From Iceland — Former PM Tried To Influence Journalists Directly

Former PM Tried To Influence Journalists Directly

Published April 22, 2016

Andie Sophia Fontaine
Photo by
Art Bicnick

Former Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson met with news editors to curb “negative” coverage of himself.

Stundin reports that Sigmundur had repeatedly called meetings with news editors from media outlets over the years, in all cases hoping to influence what he saw to be negative coverage of himself and his party, The Progressives.

According to Stundin’s sources, Páll Magnússon, the former head of national broadcasting service RÚV, was called into a meeting with Sigmundur during the summer of 2013. There, Sigmundur reportedly produced clippings that he believed were examples of RÚV being unfairly critical of the Progressive Party. He even cited a blog post by a RÚV employee which was also critical of the Progressive Party.

While Páll would not comment on the meeting beyond confirming that it took place, he was not the only news editor called in to meet with Sigmundur.

Sigurjón Magnús Egilsson, who was at the time news editor for the media company 365, was also asked to meet with Sigmundur, in January 2015.

“I was made to report to him,” Sigurjón told listeners of the show Sprengisandur on radio station Bylgjan. “My writing had been reviewed, and I was informed that many ruling coalition MPs had come to the conclusion that I was making things difficult for [Sigmundur] and his government alike,” adding that Sigmundur named several other journalists he felt had been too critical of him.

365 editor-in-chief Kristín Þorsteinsdóttir was also asked to meet with Sigmundur, where she was informed that Sigurjón had been too “negative” towards the ruling coalition. About two months later, it was announced that Sigurjón was leaving his position as news editor.

The Grapevine has been subjected to similar treatment from Sigmundur’s office, wherein our coverage and even the tweets of one of our reporters were criticised for being unfairly critical of him.

The news comes in the wake of a recent report from Reporters Without Borders (RSF) lamenting the state of press freedom in Iceland for at least the third year in a row. Of particular concern to RSF is “worsening relations between politicians and the media”. Individual instances of political pressure from the Progressive Party towards journalists were highlighted in their report.

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