From Iceland — Editorial: The War On Media

Editorial: The War On Media

Published October 23, 2017

Valur Grettisson

Before Donald Trump, there was guy called Davíð Oddsson. He was the prime minister of Iceland, the chairman of the Independence party and is remembered today as one of the most important architects of the total failing of the Icelandic banking system in the year 2008.

One of Davíð’s most historic moments was his great battle against a newspaper called Fréttablaðið in 2004. The core of the debate was of course that the Independence party disliked the owner of the newspaper, Jón Ásgeir Jóhannesson—another key player of the failing of the banking system four years later.

Fréttablaðið became one of the biggest newspapers in Iceland at an phenomenally fast pace and it was of great concern to the Independence party, because the editorship was not full of members of the Independence party—unlike one of the oldest newspapers in iceland, former giant on the market, and the biggest competition to Fréttablaðið at the time, Morgunblaðið. In few words; the Independence party was losing their choke-hold on the Icelandic media.

The reaction of the government was simple. They wrote a bill, designed to attack Fréttablaðið, which could have resulted shutting them down.

Although 77% of the nation was against the bill, the government didn’t really care and approved it at parliament anyway. However, the bill ended with the president of Iceland, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, who refused to sign it—the first time in Icelandic history this had ever happened.  In the end, the Icelandic nation was left to vote about the bill. Prime Minister Davíð Oddsson, of course, knew that this was not a bill in the favour of the people, so the government retracted it. The result is that Iceland has free media today, and this has had a  serious impact on the society. Not much has changed since then; Morgunblaðið is still a mouthpiece of the Independence party, and Fréttablaðið has seen better days, although it is still the largest newspaper in Iceland today.

The Icelandic media is always fighting for its freedom. The latest  threat to this freedom is the injunction imposed on Stundin because of its reporting about the shady dealings of our current Prime Minister only two weeks before elections. The Independence party swears that it had nothing to do with this. And of course it is a coincidence that the District Commissioner is a former substitute member of parliament for the very same party and an old friend of the closest advisors of Davíð Oddsson, such as Hannes Hólmsteinn Gissurarson.

So, here we are: elections will be held in the end of this month. We encourage everybody to go and vote. And keep in mind, that nothing should be taken for granted in Iceland. Not even the freedom of the media.

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