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.

 

Apologize or Face Cyberattack: Icelandic Paper Faces Threats from Hackers and Ire of Russian Embassy

The Icelandic newspaper Fréttablaðið received a threat from Russian hackers on Thursday morning: apologize before midnight, Moscow-time (9:00 PM in Iceland) or face a cyberattack in retaliation. The hackers want the paper’s editors to issue a formal apology for publishing a photograph of someone using a Russian flag as a doormat with the caption: “Ukrainians have found a new use for the Russian flag.” Fréttablaðið and Stundin are reporting on this story.

‘A manifest of uncovered disrespect towards the Russian Federation’

The image in question appeared as part of an interview with Valur Gunnarsson, an Icelandic journalist who is currently in Ukraine. Upon its publication on Wednesday, the photograph almost immediately caught the attention of the Embassy in Iceland, which sent Fréttablaðið’s Editor-in-Chief Sigmundur Ernir Rúnarsson a letter demanding an apology for “breaching the existing law and common moral values, as well as journalist ethics.”

“We would like to remind you that the Icelandic government hasn’t repealed yet Art. 95 of the General Penal Code of Iceland, according to which anyone who publicly insults foreign state symbols shall be fined or even imprisoned,” the letter states, calling the image “a manifest of uncovered disrespect towards the Russian Federation and its state symbols.”

The Russian Embassy urged the editors to respond immediately, and “not waste time defending this under the cover of free speech.”

Two Icelandic authors were convicted under same law for insulting Hitler

The legal provision cited by the Russian Embassy—which can technically carry with it a prison sentence of up to six years—is rarely enacted, although it does have a fairly colourful history. The most famous instances of Icelanders being sentenced under this legal provision occurred in 1934, during the leadup to World War II.

First, author Þórbergur Þórðarson stood trial and was fined for calling Adolf Hitler a “sadist” in an article he wrote for the socialist paper Alþýðublaðið called “The Nazis’ Sadistic Appetite.” Later that same year, poet Steinn Steinarr was sentenced under the same article when he and four other people cut down a swastika flag at the German consulate in Siglufjörður.

More recently, rapper and artist Erpur Eyvindarson and two friends were sentenced under the same provision after throwing a Molotov cocktail at the U.S. Embassy in 2002. It was determined that the trio had not intended to harm anyone with the homemade combustable, but rather deface the exterior of the embassy. As such, they were found guilty of insulting a foreign state and its citizens instead of a more serious crime.

In 2017, Left-Green MPs submitted a resolution to appeal the provision, saying, among other things, that it posed an infringement on free expression. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs opposed the repeal, however, arguing that the provision was justified under the terms of international agreements and treaties of friendship.

‘After hacking your paper’s website, we will publish photos of kompromat’

On Thursday morning, the Fréttablaðið website was subjected to what seemed to be a preliminary or warning attack. “We noticed this morning that the traffic on the website suddenly snowballed and it was clear that it was part of an attack on the website,” said Sigmundur Ernir. The ISP already had security measures in place to protect the website and additional steps were then taken to try and prevent further incursions on its functionality. At time of writing, the Fréttablaðið website was still active and accessible, although keeping it functional was difficult, according to sources at the paper.

Shortly after the initial attack, the Fréttablaðið editors received a more explicit email from the hackers responsible, saying: “What right do you have to insult or dishonour the symbols of another nation!!! If you do not apologize on Thursday, August 11 before 24:00 Moscow-time! [sic] We will hack your website and provider. Then after hacking your paper’s website, we will publish photos of kompromat on your publication and you will for sure face a criminal sentence for corruption, banditry [English word used in original message], etc.”

Ivan Glinkin, Communications Director for the Russian Embassy, says the embassy has no idea who is responsible for the attacks on the Fréttablaðið website. Asked if the embassy believes such attacks are in any way an appropriate response to the publication of the offending photo, Glinkin said the embassy condemns all illegal actions, no matter what they are.

‘The flag is almost beside the point’

Editor-in-chief Sigmundur Ernir stated that his paper would not be issuing an apology for publishing a journalistic image taken in a conflict zone but is taking the threat seriously and has referred the matter to the police.

Fréttablaðið has also contacted the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which has expressed support for the paper’s position. The Union of Icelandic Journalists (BÍ) also published a statement of support on Thursday, saying “the importance of an independent and free media is particularly vital in times of war and BÍ condemns all attempts to influence the media’s coverage of the war in Ukraine.”

“There’s nothing sacred in a war where children, mothers, and the elderly are killed and whole communities destroyed,” Sigmundur Ernir remarked in an interview with Vísir the same day.

“So the flag is almost beside the point, as flags are trampled in many places around the world in protest. I think Russians should think first and foremost about treating the nations around them with decency rather than whining about a photo in Fréttablaðið.”

Journalism Award Given for Reportage on Samherji Scandal

Four journalists have been awarded the Union of Icelandic Journalists’ 2019 Bladamannaverðlaun for Best Investigative Reporting for their coverage of the Samherji Scandal, Kjarninn reports. One of last year’s biggest news stories in Iceland, the scandal ignited investigations both domestically and abroad when allegations were made that one of the country’s largest seafood companies, Samherji, had bribed government officials in Namibia in order to gain lucrative fishing rights and avoid taxation.

In Focus: Samherji Scandal

Aðal­­­steinn Kjart­ans­­son, Helgi Selj­an, and Stefán Drengs­­son, reporters for RÚV’s investigative news program Kveikur, and Ingi Freyr Vil­hjálms­­son, a journalist for Stundin, all received the award for their collaborative coverage of the scandal with Al Jazeera and Wikileaks. “Few stories generated more interest in the Icelandic media…” read the jury’s justification for the award. “The coverage has had a significant impact, both here in Iceland and abroad.”

See Also: Broken News

Arnar Páll Hauksson, a reporter for RÚV’s radio program Spegillinn, received the Journalist of the Year award for his coverage of wage issues. “With his deep knowledge and expertise built on years of experience, Arnar Páll has delivered high-quality coverage on wage issues in countless articles and in-depth reports at a time of great upheaval on the labour market. He has covered ideas and suggestions that have been made in wage negotiations in great detail and was frequently the first to report new developments.”

The award for Best Coverage of the Year went to Stundinn’s Alma Mjöll Ólafs­dótt­ir, Jóhann Páll Jóhanns­­son, Mar­grét Mart­eins­dótt­ir, and Stein­­dór Grétar Jóns­­son for their reporting on climate change issues, which was commended by the jury for providing comprehensive reportage on the foreseeable consequences of man-made global warming, its manifestations both in Iceland and abroad, and efforts made by both the government and individuals to counteract damage already done to the environment.

Interview of the Year was given to Erla Björg Gunn­­ar­s­dótt­ir, Nadine Guð­rún Yag­hi, and Jóhann K. Jóhanns­­son for an interview with a young woman who grew up in Seltjarnarnes with a mentally ill mother who struggled with drug addiction. As a child, the interviewee endured neglect and abuse at the hands of her mother, but Child Protection Services in her town neglected to intervene. “The interview received well-deserved attention and was followed by numerous reports on the status of vulnerable children, the operations of child welfare committees, and other related issues,” read the jury’s award justification.

Lawyers Awaited Snowmobilers After Rescue

When a group of snowmobilers reached shelter after being rescued from a storm last month, they found lawyers waiting for them, RÚV reports. The lawyers’ aim was to offer their services in case the foreign tourists wanted to take legal action against the company who ran the excursion. Red Cross and Search and Rescue representatives criticised the move, saying it provoked unnecessarily stress on the heels of the group’s traumatic experience.

On January 7, 39 tourists were stranded at the base of Langjökull glacier in West Iceland, where they were forced to dig snow shelters while they waited hours for rescue teams to reach them. Mountaineers of Iceland, the company that organised the tour, later admitted fault, saying the decision to visit an ice cave on the trip led the group to get stuck in bad weather.

When the group arrived at Gullfosskaffi shortly after being rescued, they found lawyers awaiting them. Lawyers also met the group upon their arrival in Reykjavík shortly after. Þór Þorsteinsson, ICE-SAR’s director, says laywers also called the organisation asking for a list of names of victims in the incident, “which we, of course, did not provide.”

In a TV interview, Þór and Brynhildur Bolladóttir, the Icelandic Red Cross’ public relations officer, agreed that the lawyers’ presence was not a desirable development. Brynhildur added that it was the duty of Red Cross staff to ensure that individuals who had experienced trauma not experience additional stress, including from reporters, who were also present to interview some of those rescued. Conditions are often such that people can’t evaluate whether they should give an interview or not. “All provocation when people have experienced trauma or serious events can have consequences,” Brynhildur stated.

Journalists on 12-Hour Strike Today

Having voted down a proposed agreement with the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA) this week, members of the Union of Icelandic Journalists (BÍ) went on a twelve-hour strike at 10:00 AM today, RÚV reportsThe strike extends to reporters, photographers, and videographers for online media at Fréttablaðið, Morgunblaðið, RÚV, and Vísir. Print journalists will not go on strike.

Hjálmar Jónsson, Chairman of the Union of Icelandic Journalists (pictured above), stated yesterday that the demands of journalists fall completely within the bounds of the Standard of Living Agreement (a collective bargaining agreement signed in April of this year by various Icelandic unions that emphasises “improved wages for lower-paid workers”). Hjálmar has called for a neutral assessment of the union’s demands. “My offer has not been accepted but it still stands,” Hjálmar stated.  

A meeting between the Union of Icelandic Journalists and the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise has been scheduled for next Tuesday. The first proposed agreement was drafted last week. However, approximately 70% of union members voted against the agreement on Tuesday. Yesterday, Árvakur, publisher of Morgunblaðið, laid off 15 staff members.

The first strike on November 8 marked the first time in 40 years that members of the Union of Icelandic Journalists have gone on strike.