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.

Journalists Criticise Grindavík Access Restrictions

Rescue workers assist Grindavík residents

The restricted access for journalists to the town of Grindavík is undermining the media’s role in reporting and accountability, two editors stated in an interview with RÚV yesterday. The Minister of Culture and Business Affairs has called for safe and reliable reporting from the area.

Restricted access since last Thursday

Journalists and reporters have not been allowed to enter the town of Grindavik since last Thursday when a system was implemented allowing only one cameraman and one photographer access to the area. They were then tasked with sharing their material with other media outlets. 

Yesterday, access for media personnel was completely restricted due to poor weather conditions. As noted by RÚV, the Union of Icelandic Journalists is considering actions in response to this ban. 

Media’s role being undermined

In an interview with RÚV yesterday, Erla Björg Gunnarsdóttir – editor of the newsroom of Vísir, Stöð 2, and Bylgjan – stated that the role of the media was being severely undermined: “The role of the media is to gather information, disseminate information, allow the public voice to be heard, and hold authorities accountable. These restrictions in Grindavik entirely prevent the media from fulfilling this role.” 

Þorsteinn Ásgrímsson Melén, assistant news editor of Mbl.is, agreed with Erla’s observations: “It’s not just that an entire town has been sidelined, it’s also the construction of these protective barriers, which are a massive undertaking.” 

“There’s a lot that needs to be monitored, and it’s natural for the media to keep an eye on things. Both for the residents, to be their eyes and ears on the ground, but also to check the power of the state,” Þorsteinn added.

Consideration is not everything

When asked whether the difficult circumstances facing Grindavík residents, and recent criticism of the media not showing adequate consideration, could have something to do with these restrictions, Þorsteinn replied: “Of course, consideration should always be shown, but if we always had to report on things from that standpoint alone, a large part of history would not be recorded.”

“Our journalists have heart,” Erla added. “They take precautions and show caution. The voices of Grindavík residents in recent days, those Grindavík residents who have participated in interviews, are so important. This is crucial for the public to gain some insight into the lives of these people.”

Both Erla and Þorsteinn expressed regret at the fact that there had been no consultation with the media regarding the current arrangement. “We are simply informed of how the arrangement is – and the arrangement is not suitable for the media,” Erla commented. “We need to stop treating the media like naughty children on a field trip to Grindavík. We cannot provide a convincing account of what is happening in Grindavík if we are not permitted entry”

“First and foremost, I would like to see this ban lifted,” Þorsteinn added. “I can see no reasonable explanation for the drone ban over the area, for example. No justification has been given.”

Restrictions contributing to misleading coverage

Speaking to RÚV yesterday, Lilja Alfreðsdóttir, the Minister of Culture and Business Affairs responsible for media affairs, expressed concern about the misleading coverage of the geological unrest in Reykjanes, especially in foreign media. She conjectured that this could be attributed to the media’s restricted access to Grindavík.

“I believe that enhancing safety measures, which I see as a priority, will benefit everyone. Once safety is assured, it’s crucial to improve the dissemination of information about the area. To achieve this, we need to ensure clearer access,” Lilja stated. “In my role as the Minister of Media, I place a strong emphasis on the importance of safe and reliable media coverage of the area. Regrettably, access has not seen the necessary improvements.”

When asked about improving access, Lilja stated that there had been extensive discussions among her fellow ministers about this issue, which had been brought up during a government meeting yesterday morning. 

Deep North Episode 45: Borrowed Crime

icelandic true crime

On May 26, 1982, sisters Yvette and Marie Luce Bahuaud arrived in Iceland from France. On August 15, after nearly three months of travelling, they came to the town of Djúpivogur in East Iceland. Having spent the night at a hotel, they planned to hitchhike to Skaftafell, a preservation area just south of the Vatnajökull glacier, which had become a national park in 1957. Their murder that night has proved to be one of the stranger episodes in Icelandic history, and we consider this tragic event in the wider context of the ever-growing true crime genre.

Read the story here.

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.

 

Iceland’s Winning Press Photos of 2021

NOT FOR GENERAL USE

The Journalists’ Association of Iceland announced the 2021 Press Photo of the Year winners last Saturday at the 2021 Press Photo exhibition opening at Reykjavík’s Museum of Photography. The winning photo, seen above, was taken by Vilhjálmur Gunnarson, and features, perhaps unsurprisingly, the Geldingadalir eruption, which began in March and lasted until September of 2021.

The jury described the photo as “An interesting, strong and original picture of one of the biggest news stories in a challenging year.”

News Photo of the Year

NOT FOR GENERAL USE

Vilhjálmur also won in the category of News Photo of the Year, for the above photo, titled “Where is Svandís?” The shot features Iceland’s new cabinet following the September 2021 parliamentary elections setting up for a group photo, with Minister of Food and Agriculture Svandís Svavarsdóttir nowhere to be found. The jury praised its humorous take on a classic subject.

Sports Photo of the Year

Kristinn Magnússon won in the category of Sports Photo of the Year, for this capture of a tender moment where Deane William’s girlfriend comforts him after his team has lost a game, while the winning team celebrates in the background.

Magazine Photo of the Year

NOT FOR GENERAL USE

This colourful shot by Hörður Sveinsson, featuring musician John Grant, was the winner in the Magazine Photo of the Year category. The jury praised its powerful colours and unusual shapes, which the photographer and subject clearly put a lot of effort into.

Environment Photo of the Year

NOT FOR GENERAL USE

Like the winning Photo of the Year, the winner in the Environment category, taken by Sigtryggur Ari Jóhannsson, also features the Geldingadalir eruption, though in a different light. The jury noted how the image appears black and white, but a closer look reveals subtle colours. The shot shows fresh lava about to flow over earthen dams, built to direct the flow of the eruption. 

Everyday Life Photo of the Year

Photographer Heiða Helgadóttir snapped a winner when she captured Una Margrét Jónsdóttir and Hólmsteinn Eiður Hólmsteinsson, married for 20 years, using a special form of communication that has helped them discuss difficult issues throughout their relationships: letting imaginary “finger people” discuss the topics on their behalf.

Portrait of the Year

NOT FOR GENERAL USE

Páll Stefánsson won the Portrait of the Year category for his shot of artist Shu Yi at the opening of her exhibition at Mutt Gallery last year. The jury praised the photo for its stylistic purity and calm but strong energy.

Photo Series of the Year

Heiða Helgadóttir shot this year’s winning series, which features Pétur Guðmann Guðmannsson, one of Iceland’s two professional forensic pathologists. All the autopsies Pétur carries out have the goal of determining the individual’s cause of death. The jury praised Heiða for her well-thought-out approach, and for portraying difficult subject matter in a way that was tasteful and professional, while still striking.

The exhibition features 102 photos in total, and can be seen at the Reykjavík Museum of Photography until May 29, 2022.

Interested readers can also browse the Press Photos of 2020 and Press Photos of 2019, in which Iceland Review photographer Golli was awarded.

Journalists’ Case Dismissed from Court of Appeal

The Court of Appeal has dismissed journalist Aðalsteinn Kjartansson’s case against North Iceland Police, RÚV reports. The court’s ruling says there is nothing in the case that suggests that police did not follow correct procedure in the investigation against Aðalsteinn. The Northeast Iceland District Court had ruled in Aðalsteinn’s favour, but the journalist had requested to appeal the case.

The Court of Appeal ruling states that the media play an important role in a democratic society for free and informed debate. It stresses that care must be taken to avoid imposing restrictions on their work that would impair their ability to discuss issues. However, this does not guarantee journalists protection against a police investigation into alleged violations of criminal law.

Aðalsteinn was one of four journalists who received the legal status of defendant in connection with a police investigation into a violation of privacy. He decided to challenge the legality of the police’s actions and appealed to the Northeast Iceland District Court. While it was originally believed the case concerned the journalists’ coverage of a scandal connected to seafood company Samherji, the Chief of Police later announced that it concerned other, sensitive data found on a Samherji employee’s phone.

The journalists’ source has not been confirmed, nor whether they accessed the employee’s phone. Neither was there any mention of the sensitive data in question in any of the journalists’ reporting on the scandal.

The ruling means that the police may call the four journalists in for questioning in relation to their investigation.

Samherji Journalist Wins Appeal Against Northeast Iceland Police

The Northeast Iceland District Court has ruled on Stundin journalist Aðalsteinn Kjartansson’s appeal to determine the legality of a police investigation into his and other journalists’ alleged distribution of sexual material from the stolen phone of a Samherji ship captain. The judge concluded that Northeast Iceland Police chief Páley Borgþórsdóttir was wrong to give official defendant status to Aðalsteinn on those grounds, Vísir reports.

As previously reported, four journalists are under investigation by Northeast Iceland Police. While it initially appeared the investigation was into the journalists’ reporting on leaked communications between several Samherji employees calling themselves the company’s “guerrilla division.” However, they were instead accused of violating Articles 228 and 229 of the Penal Code — legislation implemented to protect victims of digital sexual violence. They were given the legal status of defendants in the case.

A law isn’t broken by a journalist receiving data

As per news site Stundin, the Northeast Iceland District Court determined the journalists were not considered to have breached the law simply for receiving and viewing sensitive personal data since it is part of a journalist’s job to receive data and tips and determine if it is in the public interest to pursue them.

The ruling notes that, in general, the mere act of receiving and opening data sent without the recipient’s consent is not a criminal offence.

A case built on sand?

The district court’s verdict also states that it cannot be concluded from police documents that ship captain Páll Steingrímsson contacted the police because of the personal videos on his phone, which the police claimed to be the reason for Aðalsteinn being named as a defendant.

Gunnar Ingi Jóhannsson, Aðalsteinn’s lawyer, told Stundin the ruling confirms his argument that “the police’s case against the journalists is built on sand.”

Further Twists in Police Investigation of Samherji Journalists

Þórður Snær Júlíusson

A court case is revealing more twists in the high-profile police investigation of four journalists in Iceland, Vísir reports. The prosecutor argues the journalists are guilty of distributing sexual material from a stolen phone, while the journalists’ lawyer says he has not seen the material and the police theory most resembles a conspiracy theory. Northeast Iceland Police called in the journalists for questioning earlier this month in relation to their reporting on seafood company Samherji, the centre of a bribery and tax evasion scandal that first broke in 2019. The questioning was later postponed when one of the four journalists appealed to the Northeast Iceland District Court to determine its legality.

Read More: Police Investigate Journalists for Samherji Scandal Reporting

At first, it appeared the police investigation was centred on the journalists’ reporting from May 2021 into leaked communications between several Samherji employees who referred to themselves as the company’s “guerrilla division.” A report from Northeast Iceland Police, however, states that police are investigating sexual offences against Páll Steingrímsson, the owner of the phone that was the source of the leaked communications. The journalist’s lawyer argued that police had no evidence the sexual material on Páll’s phone had been distributed among the journalists and that the entire case was an attempt to silence media and “teach the journalists a lesson.”

The case against the four journalists is built on legislation implemented last year to protect victims of digital sexual violence.

Police Investigates Journalists for Samherji Scandal Reporting

Þórður Snær - ritsjóri Kjarnans - fjölmiðlar

The Northeast Iceland Police Department has launched an investigation of four journalists in relation to their reporting on seafood company Samherji, the centre of an international scandal that first erupted in late 2019. The journalists are being investigated for alleged violations of privacy and have the legal status of defendants in the case. The Journalists’ Association of Iceland has condemned the investigation.

The four journalists are Aðalsteinn Kjartansson of Stundin, Arnar Þór Ingólfsson of Kjarninn, Þórður Snær Júlíusson, Kjarninn’s editor, and Þóra Arnórsdóttir, editor of investigative journalism programme Kveikur at Icelandic National Broadcaster RÚV. The police investigation is centred on reporting from May 2021 into leaked communications between several Samherji employees who referred to themselves as the company’s “guerrilla division.” The employees worked to gather information on journalists who had published negative press on Samherji as well as trying to discredit them and disqualify them from writing about the company in the future.

Several government ministers, including Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir and Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson, condemned Samherji’s targeting of the media after the “guerilla division” investigation came to light. Samherji issued a statement and later printed a letter of apology in Fréttablaðið and Morgunblaðið newspapers in response to the case.

Public interest versus privacy

Sigríður Dögg Auðunsdóttir, chairperson of The Journalists’ Association of Iceland, described the police investigation as “incomprehensible” and “indefensible” in a written statement published on the Association’s website. She expressed consternation that the journalists were being investigated for simply reporting on data they had obtained. “Whenever data is of such a nature that it could be considered a violation of privacy, a journalist must evaluate them with regard to public interest and assess which weighs more heavily: privacy or public interest,” Sigríður wrote. “When public interest prevails, there is never a question whether such data should be used as a basis for news, no matter how the data is obtained.”

The journalists’ reporting was based on leaked messages, reportedly from a stolen phone, but how the journalists obtained the data is unknown. Þórður Snær Júlíusson, one of the defendants, says police told him he was not suspected of stealing the phone, rather the police investigation was based on suspected violations of privacy as outlined in articles 228 and 229 of the Penal Code. “It entails that we have written news stories based on the data, there’s really nothing else that falls under [these articles].”

Hope to Remove RÚV from the Ad Market this Electoral Term

Lilja Alfreðsdóttir is one of the people nominated for Person of the Year.

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.