The publication of Fréttablaðið, the first newspaper to be distributed for free in Iceland, has ceased. All broadcasts on the television station Hringbraut will also come to a close. Approximately 100 people have been laid off in what the editor of Fréttablaðið has called “a shock for democracy in Iceland.”
Decision caught many by surprise
In a press release this morning, the company Torg (which operates Fréttablaðið, Hringbraut, and DV) announced that a decision had been made to shutter Fréttablaðið, which has been published continuously since 2001. Furthermore, all broadcasts from the television station Hringbraut will cease.
As noted by Vísir, a staff meeting was called at Torg’s office in Hafnartorg, Reykjavík, this morning, where employees were informed of the pending changes. According to Vísir’s sources, there had been “great uncertainty about the future of Fréttablaðið among the employees for some time.” The news, nonetheless, caught many by surprise – not least those who were off duty or were engaged in projects out of town.
An announcement from Torg cites “various reasons” why the operations had failed:
“There are many reasons why Fréttablaðið’s business is unsustainable. Partly it is down to bad luck and partly it is an unavoidable development, as the publication of print media has rapidly subsided, not least in this country. Digital media is gradually taking over. Also, the operating environment of private media in Iceland is uninviting. There is nothing to do but face these facts. All employees of Torg were paid their salaries today.”
The announcement further cites the pandemic as a reason for Fréttablaðið’s operational troubles, as well as a dramatic decline in ad revenues: “During the epidemic, government support for private media was introduced, which was appreciated, although it did not suffice to sustain larger media companies. Subsequently, the government has provided financial support to the activities of the media, but that contribution has dwindled.”
Torg’s announcement states that the operation of the websites DV.is and Hringbraut.is would continue alongside the publication of Iceland Magazine.
Editor speaks out
After the news broke, Sigmundur Ernir Rúnarsson, editor of Fréttablaðið, stated that this was “a sad day” for his colleagues at Torg, who had collaborated on the publication of the newspaper, the operation of its website, alongside the production of television programmes and podcasts. According to Vísir, twelve employees of DV.is will keep their jobs.
Sigmundur Ernir told Vísir that employees had worked hard to “revive Fréttablaðið under very difficult conditions, after the pandemic, after the war in Ukraine, which has had a great impact on the operation, and, in fact, the operation of all private media. There is a cross-political agreement to foster one media outlet – that of the state media. The others can do what they want. Everyone who runs a private media company today knows that they are very heavily targeted by the public sector. [It remains to be seen whether there is any] interest in running a democratic, vigorous media in the country.”
As noted by Vísir, Fréttablaðið was first published on Monday, April 23, 2001. Its first editor was Einar Karl Haraldsson. The publication of the paper marked a turning point in Icelandic media history, as the paper was distributed free of charge to homes and advertising revenue served as the basis for its operations. As a result, the paper soon became the most widely read in the country.