Fishing company Samherji issued a statement yesterday in which the company apologises for the behaviour of its management, which “went too far” in its “harsh” response to negative media coverage, according to the company. Leaked documents show the company’s lawyer, PR consultant, and a ship captain in their employ co-ordinated a campaign targeting journalists who had published investigations into the company’s alleged bribery and tax fraud. While Samherji has set a new tone with the statement, it has left journalists and the public unconvinced.
In 2019, a joint investigation by Icelandic media and Al Jazeera into leaked documents from Samherji alleged the company had bribed Namibian government officials to gain access to lucrative fishing grounds off the country’s coast, as well as avoiding taxes by leveraging international loopholes. The investigation made international headlines and led to the resignation and arrest of high-ranking government officials in Namibia.
Icelandic media outlet Kjarninn published an investigation earlier this month into leaked communications between several Samherji employees who referred to themselves as the company’s “guerrilla division.” The employees worked to gather information on journalists who had published negative press on Samherji as well as trying to discredit them and disqualify them from writing about the company in the future. Several government ministers, including Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir and Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson, condemned Samherji’s actions after the investigation came to light.
Samherji released a short statement yesterday in response to the investigation. It begins by asserting the coverage of the company’s operations over the years to have been “one-sided, unfair, and not always based on facts,” stating that in such situations, it can be “difficult not to react.” It labelled the leaked communications between its “guerrilla division” members as “unfortunate.” The statement concludes with an apology of sorts, stating: “Samherji’s management has also reacted harshly to negative coverage of the company and it is clear that those reactions went too far. For that reason, Samherji would like to apologise for that conduct.”
RÚV journalists expressed their hope that the statement signalled a change of direction for Samherji, whose owners have refused to grant journalists an interview since the Fishrot Files scandal broke in 2019. They were, however, critical of its vague wording and lack of reference to specific company executives, actions, or even who the apology is directed towards. “Maybe this apology would have been better if it had been clearer who was apologising to whom and for what,” Heiðar Örn Sigurfinsson, Deputy News Editor of Iceland’s National Broadcaster RÚV wrote in a Facebook post.