Minister of Education, Science, and Culture, Lilja Dögg Alfreðsdóttir iterated her position yesterday that RÚV should be removed from the advertisement market. In an interview with Vísir, the leaders of the Independence Party and the Left-Green Movement concurred with the Minister’s conviction.
A bone of contention
The inclusion of RÚV (the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service) on the advertising market has long been contentious. RÚV has a legal commitment to promoting the Icelandic language and Iceland’s history. It is partly funded by a television license fee, with the rest of its income originating from ad sales.
Last year, for example, the government paid out 400 million ISK in grants to 19 privately-owned media outlets, 63% of which went to three major companies. In comparison, government payouts to RÚV increased by 430 million ISK ($3.5 million / €3 million), or from 4.6 billion ISK ($37 million / €32 million) to 5.1 billion ISK (($41 million / €36 million).
As reported by Vísir, RÚV’s income currently accounts for approximately a quarter of all earnings by Icelandic media outlets, a figure that hasn’t been higher since the last century.
Perseverance as opposed to empty promises
Yesterday, Lilja Dögg Alfreðsdóttir – Minister of Education, Science, and Culture – iterated her intentions of removing RÚV from the advertising market.
When asked by a Vísir reporter why the citizenry should take these remarks seriously, given that she had made such declarations in the past – Lilja Dögg announced ambitious plans to remove RÚV from the advertising market in 2019 – Lilja turned the journalist’s logic on its head:
“Such statements point to my perseverance, to how determined I am, as a politician; if I think something needs to be done, I don’t stop until it’s done. In those countries to whom we often compare ourselves, the state broadcaster is not on the advertising market.”
Referencing the government’s renewed mandate, Lilja stated that the government now had the requisite time on its hands to withdraw the state broadcaster from the ad market.
“Of course, this means that we need to bolster RÚV’s operations in some other way, which I’ve previously noted. But it’s clear that the operational environment of local media is unsustainable. We’ve seen a great many people leave the profession. This isn’t good for Icelandic democracy, for politics, for business.”
No consensus on cutbacks
Like Lilja, Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs, Bjarni Benediktsson, is confident that RÚV will be removed from the ad market this electoral term.
“I think it’s time that we take this step, and we need to find ways of doing it,” Bjarni stated, acknowledging that the government would need to find a way to ensure RÚV’s operations.
“We’re not saying that we need to make drastic cuts to its budget, for we seem to lack the political consensus to decrease RÚV’s scope. Personally, however, I think it’s something that we should be open to reviewing: whether we want RÚV to operate at such a scale for the foreseeable future, as opposed to cutting our coat according to the cloth.”
Bjarni added that he is opposed to raising the television licence fee, which he considers a tax and not a premium.
“I believe that we should review, during this electoral term, whether we shouldn’t abolish this tax – to relieve households and legal entities of the tax. We need to face the cost of operating a public broadcaster with an item in the budget that clearly states the price.”
A long-term, holistic vision
Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir agrees that RÚV should be removed from the ad market.
When asked by Vísir if she was comfortable with the fact that the state of the media had deteriorated during her tenure, Prime Minister Katrín cited government grants and her agreement with Lilja Dögg that the government needed to draw up a long-term, holistic policy for media outlets.
“It’s long been my opinion that we should aim toward removing RÚV from the ad market, with the caveat that we need to ensure its operations. We are all of the same opinion, in my party, that we want a vigorous public broadcaster,” Katrín stated, who believes that a strong public broadcaster is vital in a small society like Iceland.