Iceland Trails Nordic Neighbours in Press Freedom Rankings Skip to content

Iceland Trails Nordic Neighbours in Press Freedom Rankings

By Ragnar Tómas

Parliament press media journalist photographers
Photo: Golli.

Iceland ranks 18th in the World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders. Challenges to Icelandic media include a small market vulnerable to political and economic pressures, restricted access to certain areas, and concerns over government funding favouring larger media groups.

Norway tops the rankings

According to the latest annual report produced by the international non-profit and non-governmental organisation Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Iceland ranks 18th in the World Press Freedom Index. Other Nordic countries lead. Norway tops the list, followed closely by Denmark and Sweden.

According to RSF, while the media in Iceland enjoy “both a protective legislative framework and a significant degree of public trust,” their independence, weakened by the small size of the market, is threatened by “political and economic interests.”

The report notes that journalists in the local media are vulnerable to influence from local authorities and businesses: “In recent years, the work of journalists has been the subject of virulent criticism in Parliament, which has been perceived by some reporters as a form of political pressure.”

Unwarranted restrictions, conflicts of interest

Among other aspects of the Icelandic media landscape that detract from press freedom, according to the report, are unwarranted restrictions. Although the legal framework upholds press freedom and public information access, implementation can be lacking: “… as seen in 2023, when insufficiently justified restrictions were placed on journalists’ access to natural disaster areas.

Additionally, while the government in Iceland has sought to provide financial support to the media, RSF is concerned that this support may disproportionately benefit large media groups, potentially harming media diversity.

“While investigative journalism is benefiting from significant momentum following in-depth coverage of major corruption cases, advertising revenue, limited due to the market’s small size, has fallen. To compensate for this decline, the government has provided unprecedented financial support to the media. Some fear, however, that these public funds will favour large media groups to the detriment of media pluralism.”

The authors of the report also expressed concerns over the influence of Iceland’s fishing sector: “Big fishing companies own media outlets, which raises questions of conflict of interest. Furthermore, since 2019, journalists who covered the Fishrot Files – suspected corruption in Namibia by a major fishing company – have been subjected to a smear campaign and a police investigation.”

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