Four journalists will soon be questioned by North Iceland police over their coverage of fishing giant Samherji; specifically, their revelations of a group calling itself “the Samherji guerilla division” which sought to engage in damage control over the company’s revealed involvement in bribery and tax evasion related to their operations in Namibia, Stundin reports.
The journalists the police are seeking to question are Kjarninn editor-in-chief Þórður Snær Júlíusson; Stundin journalist Aðalsteinn Kjartansson; Kjarninn journalist Arnar Þór Ingólfsson and, RÚV reports, editor of investigative news show Kveikur Þóra Arnórsdóttir.
Police are specifically seeking to find out how these journalists obtained copies of communications between different members of the so-called Samherji guerilla division, as they believe the possession of this documentation may constitute a violation of the right to privacy.
However, Sigríður Dögg Auðunsdóttir, the president of the Icelandic Journalists Union, told RÚV that police questioning journalists over how they obtained their sources, or who their sources might be, is indefensible and a clear violation of one of the core principles of a free press.
“Whenever files are considered a possible violation of the right to privacy, a journalist has to assess the documentation in the context of public interest and decide which bears more weight; the right to privacy or the public interest,” she told reporters. “When the public interest bears more weight, then there’s no question that this documentation should be used as the basis for reporting, no matter how it was obtained.”
Sigríður points out that the European Court of Human Rights has also backed up this conclusion, not to mention numerous rulings in Icelandic courts. She stated furthermore that police questioning journalists over who their sources are and how they obtained documentation can have a chilling effect and further erode public trust in going to the press with important information.
Indeed, last year Reporters Without Borders issued a worrying assessment of the state of the free press in Iceland, specifically citing in part Samherji’s campaign to discredit the journalists reporting on their activities.
“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.”
For his part, Þórður Snær spoke to RÚV on the matter, echoing much the same sentiments as Sigríður.
“Our reporting is based on documentation,” he said. “We went over the documents and reported from them the portions which we considered pertinent to the public interest,” adding that no one has questioned the veracity of the reporting itself, nor chosen to respond to questions posed to them in the wake of this reporting.
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