Thorsteinn Pálsson, former prime minister and former chairman of the Independence Party, will become one of two editors of the Baugur-owned Fréttabladid, reports the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service, RÚV.
On the same day Thorsteinn was hired, deputy editor Gudmundur Magnússon was fired.
Fréttbladid is published by 365 Media, a subsidiary of the holding company Dagsbrun which is listed on the Icelandic Stock Exchange. According to Dagsbrun’s website, Baugur is its largest shareholder with a 28.9% stake followed by Landsbanki and subsidiaries with 17.2%. Other shareholders include several board members of FL-Group where both Baugur and Landsbanki have material financial interests.
According to RÚV, the editor of Fréttabladid rebuked Gudmundur recently after the management of 365 Media took issue with his writings about a scandal that recently enveloped DV, another daily also published by 365 Media. Gudmundur criticized remarks made by Gunnar Smári Egilsson – current CEO of Dagsbrun, former CEO of 365 Media and a former editor of Fréttabladid – concerning the independence of editors.
(A few weeks ago, both editors of the daily DV resigned after a teacher in Ísafjordur committed suicide in the wake of allegations of sexual harassment prominently covered by DV.)
In an interview last night on news program Spotlight (Kastljós), one of the program’s co-hosts pointed out that Fréttabladid has been linked to the Social Democratic Party, and that David Oddsson (former prime minister and chairman of the Independence Party) and Björn Bjarnason (current minister of justice and ecclesiastical affairs), both former colleagues of Thorsteinn Palsson and fellow Independents, have referred to Fréttabladid as the “Baugur-Times”. The host then asked Thorsteinn if he agreed with these words. “All these words and conflicts are in the past, ” replied Thorsteinn.
Spotlight’s co-host also pointed out that the case filed by the Economic Crimes Division of the National Police against several managers of Baugur was still being heard at the Reykjavík District Court, “You can not look past the fact that the owners of Fréttabladid have consistently said that the entire Baugur case is politically motivated at the instigation of senior members of the Independence Party – this is something that they have often said and now you are going to work for these people – you the former chairman of the Independence Party”.
(Thorsteinn Pálsson served as chairman of the Independence Party from 1983 until 1991. He was dethroned as chairman of the Independents in a coup led by Davíd Oddsson. No love has been lost between them since.)
Thorsteinn replied, “I assume the role of editor with another good editor [Kári Jónasson, former news editor at RÚV] … this board of editors has complete freedom and does not defer to its owner on editorial issues.”
The editorial said to have ended Gudmundur’s career at Fréttabladid was titled “Give the editors a written mandate”. In it Gudmundur writes, “It is a strange view expressed by the CEO, Gunnar Smári Egilsson, that the senior editorial staff is to decide what sort of publication they operate. The owners and managers of media can not absolve themselves of responsibility by using such language, and it is self-evident that such an modus operandi is untenable. Editorial independence only makes sense if they [the owners] have framed a general [editorial] policy for which they can be held responsible, just like the editors, in case of abuse.”
The editorial goes on to say, “It was not common knowledge among the employees of 365 Media that board members of the company were prohibited from interfering with the editorial process. It is important that this is now made clear. It will then also come to light if this rule is also to apply to the CEO, as well as the VP’s for marketing and advertising, as should be the case.”
Ari Edwald, who recently replaced Gunnar Smári Egilsson as CEO of 365 Media, the publisher of Fréttabladid, confirmed to Morgunbladid that Gudmundur was no longer with Fréttabladid and added “I completely deny that the issue [Gudmundur’s dismissal] had anything to do with Gudmundur’s views or writing.” Ari served as Thorsteinn’s assistant when Thorsteinn was minister of justice and ecclesiastical affairs (1991 – 1995) and minister of fisheries (1995 – 1999).
In addition to having been prime minister (8 July 1987 to 28 September 1988) and leader of the Independence Party, Thorsteinn has served as minister of fisheries, minister of finance and minister of justice and ecclesiastical affairs. Most recently, Thorsteinn was Iceland’s ambassador in Copenhagen and, prior to that, London. He was also recently appointed, by the Independence Party, to the Constitutional Committee, an ad-hoc committee reviewing Iceland’s constitution. Late last year, Thorsteinn was engaged by the outgoing speaker of Althingi, an Independent, to write the history of democracy in Iceland but resigned from that engagement after considerable criticism was raised including questions about conflict of interest and Thorsteinn’s qualifications as a historian.
Thorsteinn will assume his duties as editor on February 23 and will co-edit Fréttabladid with Kári Jónasson.
The outgoing deputy editor, Gudumundur Magnússon, made headlines late last year when it was disclosed that Björgólfur Gudmundsson, the chairman and owner of Gudmundur’s publisher, Edda Publishing, and chairman of Landsbanki, censored a chapter about his wife’s first marriage with the American Nazi leader George Lincoln Rockwell in Gudmundur’s book about the Thors family. Björgólfur’s wife, Thóra Hallgrímsson, is a member of the Thors-clan.
In January, RÚV reported that Björgólfur Gudmundsson and his son, Björgólfur Thor Bjórgólfsson (Iceland’s first dollar billionaire), have twice made an offer to buy the daily DV with the intention of closing it down. RÚV reported that Björgólfur senior and junior have been “extremely dissatisfied” with the editorial policy of DV.
Investment bank Straumur-Burdarás, of which Björgólfur Thor is chairman, recently purchased 17% of Árvakur, the publisher of Fréttabladid’s main competitor, Morgunbladid.