Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson categorically denies having requested that the District Commissioner place an injunction on media coverage of his pre-crash financial dealings, saying that it has made him look bad.
As Grapevine reported, the District Commissioner of Reykjavík issued an injunction yesterday against media outlets Stundin and Reykjavík Media, prohibiting them from doing any future reporting on the financial dealings of Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson and his family with Glitnir bank just before the economic collapse of Iceland in October 2008.
Despite the District Commissioner Þórólfur Halldórsson’s history of working within and running for the Independence Party, from which Bjarni hails, the Prime Minister told reporters that this injunction did not come from him, Vísir reports.
“I have been the chairman of the Independence Party since 2009, and from autumn 2009 certain details have been reported that concern the years when I was in business,” Bjarni said. “Often with documents that someone has leaked from somewhere. During these years, hundreds of articles of varying types have been written. And now recently, with this newest reporting, dozens of articles, I have never – neither from cases connected to my time as director of N1, nor regarding my personal finances, and not even when things were reported on personal matters that had no business in the public discussion – never have I attempted to stop this discussion. I have never demanded that people stop discussing these things.”
Some of these contentions do not hold up to scrutiny. Stundin editor Jón Trausti Reynisson told Grapevine yesterday that Bjarni has never responded to any of their questions about this and other matters. Stundin also points out that Bjarni has, in fact, made attempts at halting or altering news reporting on him, with one example being in 2009, when newspaper DV reported on his financial dealings. At that time, Hreinn Loftsson, one of DV’s owners, said that Bjarni had called their offices with the intent of “stopping this reporting”.
Bjarni added that elected officials must accept that all other rules apply when it comes to what things may be reported on.
“For this reason, I want people to understand that I did not request this injunction,” he said. “It makes me look bad, that an injunction has been placed on reporting about me.”
Bjarni is not alone in thinking the injunction makes him look bad. Independence Party MP Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson told Vísir that he is completely against injunctions being placed against the media about public leaders. Another Independence Party MP, Bryndís Haraldsdóttir, took much the same tone, saying that the matter made the party as a whole look bad.
As it stands now, Stundin is legally barred from doing any further reporting based on leaked Glitnir documents they received. A statement issued from Glitnir argues that the documents are protected by Article 58 of The Law on Financial Institutions, which concerns the confidentiality of financial information. This, both Jón Trausti and journalist union director Hjálmar Jónsson argue, is immaterial to reporting on the information contained in those documents.
“The fact that we have the documents obliges us to cover them, within the level of the public interest,” Jón Trausti, the editor of Stundin, told Grapevine earlier today. “Another claim that they have made, which would be their core argument against us on being allowed to report this, is that there would be many more names in the documents; that thousands of people would be involved in this. But I think it’s self-evident, and we have demonstrated, that we only cover things that we believe are relevant to the public. We don’t cover random members of the public.”
“This is nonsense,” Hjálmar Jónsson, the director of the Journalists’ Union, told us, referring to the legal argument. “There is nothing conclusive about the documents being stolen, firstly. Secondly, Iceland has been buying documents that have reportedly been stolen to find people cheating on their taxes. If it’s information that the people of Iceland should know about, that that’s the trademark you should look for. It’s as simple as that.”
UPDATE: According to a source who spoke with DV, Glitni Holdco ehf, the company which oversees Glitnir’s holdings, went to the District Commissioner on Friday to request the injunction, which was then executed on Monday.