From Iceland — Reporters Without Borders: Iceland Slips Down Press Freedom Ranking

Reporters Without Borders: Iceland Slips Down Press Freedom Ranking

Published April 20, 2021

Iceland has moved from 15th to 16th place on Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) World Press Freedom Index for 2021, in large part due to conflicts between fishing corporations and the media.

“The so-called ‘Fishrot Files’ scandal erupted in November 2019 when investigative media began covering thousands of documents published by WikiLeaks that had been leaked from within one of Iceland’s biggest fishing companies, indicating that it had bribed politicians in Namibia to secure a big share of that country’s fishing quota,” the report states in part. “The company launched a media campaign in 2020 aimed at discrediting the reporters covering the story.”

Indeed, when news broke on the Fishrot Files, Samherji—the fishing company referred to in the RSF report—immediately went into damage control.

The included not only releasing widely discredited videos on their side of the story, but also a concerted harassment campaign against Helgi Seljan, one of the lead reporters on the story.

Samherji furthermore filed complaints against 11 employees of RÚV, one of the media outlets who reported on the story, which included Helgi Seljan, to RÚV’s ethics committee. This committee, while noting that freedom of expression is constitutionally protected, nonetheless ruled that Helgi Seljan’s comments on social media about the matter constituted a serious violation of RÚV’s code of ethics.

RSF also noted that despite strong assurances from the Icelandic government on the importance of a free press, many media outlets are still struggling to make ends meet.

“Iceland’s legislation protects journalists and freedom of expression, but a lack of funding continues to be the main problem for the media,” RSF concludes. “A new law on media funding is being discussed.”

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