Journalists to Have Same Access as First Responders to Grindavík

grindavík iceland

The Icelandic Journalists’ Association (Blaðamannafélag Íslands) reached an agreement with the government regarding journalists’ access to sites during emergencies today, April 4. This agreement, presented during a court proceeding, acknowledges journalists’ crucial role in monitoring and providing information during emergencies. It states that restrictions on journalists’ freedom of expression must be justified by significant reasons. It also ensures that journalists’ access to hazardous areas should generally be no less than that of other responders, taking into account their specific rights and media roles.

A significant victory for freedom of expression

Sigríður Dögg Auðunsdóttir, the association’s chairperson, views the agreement as a significant victory for the profession and freedom of expression. In a statement on the Icelandic Journalists’ Association website, she emphasizes the importance of journalists having equal access to sites as other responders, such as rescue teams and police, enabling them to fulfill their duties unhindered.

Flóki Ásgeirsson, a lawyer for the association, highlights that the agreement aligns with constitutional and international human rights standards regarding journalists’ freedom of expression. He notes that courts have recognized the unique position of journalists, necessitating greater scrutiny before limiting their freedom of expression.

Restrictions to not exceed those imposed on other responders

The association previously reached a similar agreement with the police in the Reykjanes region, ensuring journalists’ access to hazardous areas while considering safety measures. Sigríður Dögg expresses satisfaction with this agreement, stating that journalists’ access has improved, allowing them to carry out their duties effectively.

The agreement specifies that authorities may impose restrictions on journalists during emergencies but should generally not exceed those imposed on other responders for security reasons and should consider journalists’ specific rights and media roles. The agreement reached with the Reykjanes police reflects these principles as well.

A translated text of the agreement can be found below:

After a meeting between representatives of the Icelandic Journalists’ Association and the Ministry of Justice, it is clear that there is agreement among the parties involved regarding the significant role journalists play in monitoring and providing information, and that substantial reasons are necessary to restrict their freedom of expression. Based on emergency laws, authorities have specific powers to respond swiftly and decisively when emergencies arise, including limiting access to certain areas. Any limitations imposed on journalists in emergency situations should generally not exceed those placed on other responders for security reasons and should also take into account journalists’ specific rights and the role of the media. On March 8th, the Icelandic Journalists’ Association and the police commissioner in the Reykjanes region reached an agreement to improve media access to disaster areas, considering these principles. In light of the above, all parties agree that this matter should be settled without costs.

Association of Icelandic Journalists Resigns from the International Federation of Journalists

Sigríður Dögg Auðunsdóttir - Blaðamannafélag Íslands

In a statement on their website today, the Association of Icelandic Journalists announced that they would be leaving the International Federation of Journalists.

Alongside the Association of Icelandic Journalists (Blaðamannafélag Íslands, or BÍ) were its sister organisations in Norway, Denmark, and Finland. The organisations have repeatedly called for reforms to practices within the organisation.

BÍ Chairperson Sigríður Dögg Auðunsdóttir stated: “The reason for the termination is that IFJ has proved unable to make improvements in its operations in accordance with criticism from the Nordic Journalists’ Association and other associations, which has been ongoing for more than ten years. We are dissatisfied with the organisation of elections and the lack of transparency in decision-making.”

Central to the recent decision was IFJ’s response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine last year. In BÍ’s statement, they cite how regional journalistic associations have been established in occupied areas of Ukraine, and how these associations have been admitted to IFJ and thereby recognised as legitimate. BÍ cites similar instances in contested areas of Georgia as well. Similarly, the choice to host the latest IFJ general assembly in Oman, a nation with strict press censorship, has called into question the association’s commitment to a free press.

Sigríður continued: “This is not an easy decision, but we cannot be a member of an international journalistic organisation whose working practices, culture, and decision-making do not meet our demands for transparency and democratic process.”

As BÍ’s bylaws require it to be a member to IFJ, the vote needed to be approved by a general meeting. Now, the resignation begins a six-month waiting period. BÍ is expected to leave IFJ by this July.

In their statement, BÍ state that they will continue their membership in and cooperation with EFJ, the European Federation of Journalists.