Minister of Finance and Independence Party chairperson Bjarni Benediktsson had some choice words to share regarding his opinion of the Icelandic media.
In a lengthy post made on Facebook, Bjarni took issue with an opinion piece in the newspaper Fréttablaðið which expressed the point of view that the Icelandic krónur is a weak currency, necessitating Iceland to adopt a new one. Bjarni not only took issue with this opinion; he had something to say about the Icelandic media as a whole:
“[The media] gives the increasingly strong impression that, due to staff shortages and a lack of funding, these media have have become little more than shells, with work structures where everyone operates by their own rules,” he wrote in part. “No policies, goals or message, and almost no purpose other than to give people a place to work. They then grab a megaphone and pour out opinions over society. One today, another tomorrow. Distributed for free. Why not just open a Facebook page and let everyone write on the wall?”
Bjarni is not the only Icelandic politician to complain about the media, as Kjarninn points out. Former Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson often likened criticism to mud-slinging, at one point accusing the media of engaging in “aerial attacks” against him in the wake of the Panama Papers coverage.
More disturbingly, as Reporters Without Borders (RSF) pointed out last April, there is reason to worry about the state of freedom of the press in Iceland, in part because of political pressure placed on media outlets.
As reported last year, the RSF cited a number of examples of worrying behaviour between the government and the press. For example, they cited “extremely negative impact” of Iceland’s defamation law on journalists and freedom of information”, as well as “the disproportionate nature of their penalties”.
Furthermore, they pointed out last year that “almost all of the leading media editors have had to stand down this year, with the noted exception of Morgunblaðið editor Davíð Oddsson, who happens to be a former prime minister and former central bank governor”; how former Minister of Foreign Affairs 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 national broadcasting network RÚV, issued by Progressive MP Vigdís Hauksdóttir, followed be severe cuts in RÚV’s budget; Vigdís exhorting readers and advertisers alike to boycott the news site Kvennablaðið after it published criticism of her, and other offenses.
In their 2014 report, RSF articulated their concerns about the ruling coalition targeting RÚV, saying:
“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.”
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