Private media companies will have one month to apply for financial support through a newly-approved government fund. Minister of Education and Culture Lilja Alfreðsdóttir has signed the regulation, which will provide ISK 400 million ($2.9m/€2.5m) in support to media companies on the basis of applications. The fund is intented to help media address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused advertising and other revenue to plummet despite a rise in media consumption.
Through the initiative, individual media companies could receive support amounting to a maximum of 25% of their salary costs to or contract payments to reporters, journalists, editors, assistant editors, photographers, and cameramen for the dissemination of news and news-related content. No single media company may receive more than 25% of the funding, or ISK 100 million.
In order to be eligible for the funding, a media company must fulfil certain criteria, including being registered with the Icelandic Media Committee or having a licence for distribution of audio and video material. The company must also produce diverse material intended for the general Icelandic public (with the exception of regional media companies). The company may not have been in financial difficulties before this year – small businesses are exempted from this criterium, provided they do not undergo liquidation or bankruptcy proceedings. The application deadline is August 7 and the applications should be processed by September 1.
Smaller Media Companies Left Out, Says Editor
Though it is a temporary measure, the fund is based on a controversial bill intended to support private media companies by the same amount on an annual basis. The bill was never passed – it was dropped from the Parliament’s agenda last winter. Þórður Snær Júlíusson, editor of Kjarninn, criticised the changes within the initiative, which he says disadvantage smaller media companies. “Here was supposed to be a funding system that was supposed to promote diversity and pluralism and benefit, among other things, small media all over the country, but at the last moment, after almost four years, it is decided that the first allotment should be allocated, as it looks to me now, to three media companies,” he told RÚV, referring to Morgunblaðið publisher Árvakur; Fréttablaðið publisher Torg; and Sýn, which publishes Vísir and runs television news station Stöð 2. Supporting these three companies distorts competition for smaller media, and also rewards companies whose operations are unsustainable, Þórður argues.
Heiðar Guðjónsson, Sýn’s CEO, celebrated the bill, stating it was long overdue. “The government agreed more than a year ago, when working on the media bill, that this amount, 400 million, would be annual, so I hope that is allocated.”
As elsewhere in the world, Icelandic media companies are facing a challenging operational environment. One of the country’s largest papers, Morgunblaðið, laid off fifteen employees late last year, following exponentially growing losses over the past three years. Icelandic journalists organised worker strikes last year when wage negotiations came to a standstill.