Iceland Crisis Report: The Media Failed Skip to content

Iceland Crisis Report: The Media Failed

The media failed in their role in the period leading up to the banking collapse, as the task force on ethics and procedures concluded in their report, which was published along with the Special Investigative Commission’s report on Monday.

The SIC presents its findings. Photo by Geir Ólafsson.

Far more positive than negative news about finance companies appeared in the period 2006 to 2008, and most was based on data from the companies themselves, visir.is reports.

The task force stated that the media have a duty to inform the public, be a venue for social discourse and provide a measure of control that works in the public interest.

The media had neither been alert to the danger signs of the imminent collapse nor shown enough independence.

The report goes on to say that although direct influence of owners on news transmission has not been shown, the self-censorship of media personnel had been widespread, partly because of the paucity of work opportunities for media personnel.

In a study commissioned by the task force on the coverage of Icelandic finance companies in the media between 2006 and 2008, it emerged that about 18,000 news pieces on finance companies were reported in the Icelandic media. Of these, about 80 percent were neutral. Of the rest, far more were positive than negative.

The ratio of positive to negative news about the largest financial institutions was uneven. The most positive news appeared about Landsbanki; it emerged that ten to 13 positive pieces appeared for every negative one about the bank.

The ratio for Kaupthing was one negative for every five positive.

According to the task force, four out of five news pieces on the financial world came from data provided by the companies themselves, and analytical or independent coverage was little to none.

Discussion on the companies was generally more negative in line with the increasing number of references on which the coverage was based.

Editors and senior staff were interviewed in the making of the report. It emerged that media people did not have the same skills for dealing with financiers as did, for instance, politicians.

One explanation of the leniency of media personnel was an “unnecessary degree of friendly association with the subject matter,” according to former editor of Fréttabladid, Jón Kaldal.

When discussion covered negative reports of foreign analysts on Icelandic businesses, the bank superiors reacted harshly.

A major problem of Icelandic media personnel was limited access to information on finance companies. The role of PR officials of the large companies was criticized, whereby it seemed they were manipulating the truth.

It turned out that the media personnel interviewed by the task force on ethics considered that Icelandic society had been very closed, both because of a lack of information and because people had come to an agreement not to rock the boat.

According to Ólafur Stephensen, then editor of Morgunbladid and now editor of Fréttabladid, “The reason was that so many had an interest in keeping silent.”

Media personnel cites the smallness and homogeneity of Icelandic society as the reason for suppression in society. People were scared of losing their jobs if they criticized powerful people.

Likewise, they did not want to become known as a “complainer,” which happened to people who criticized Icelandic society at this time.

Click here to read more about the crisis report.

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