The Patchwork of Progress

actress ebba katrín finnsdóttir

Resilience Imagine you’re a young woman struggling with addiction. You’ve lost custody over your toddler daughter, and you’re awaiting a court hearing to determine the future of your guardianship. In order to regain custody, social services – against your wishes – have enrolled you at Hússtjórnarskólinn: The School of Home Economics in Reykjavík, founded in 1942 […]

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Authorities Combat Fake Volcano News

eruption, Stóra-Skógfell, Sundhnjúkargígarröð

Minister of Culture and Business Affairs, Lilja Dögg Alfreðsdóttir, has spent ISK 100 million [€670,690 / $725,584] on marketing to respond to and correct international news coverage on the volcanic activity in the Reykjanes peninsula over the last few months.

The current eruption has been ongoing since Saturday, making it the longest-lasting in the recent spell of volcanic activity on the peninsula.

Imprecise reporting

The Icelandic Tourism Board, social media influencers and others have received public funding from the ministry, Vísir reports. “It’s very important that the correct information gets out there,” Lilja said, pointing to a BBC online article which indicated that Iceland was in a “state of emergency”. This would be an imprecise translation of the civil protection alert levels which the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management decides on at any given time.

Effect on tourism

Other news articles have connected the volcanic activity to tourism and questioning whether anyone would want to go to Iceland. “Tourism is the industry responsible for most of our foreign currency income, around 35%,” Lilja said, adding that tourism was an important pillar in securing the stability of the Icelandic Króna, along with energy intensive industries, fisheries and the creative and tech industries.

 

Borrowed Crime

true crime iceland

The sensationalisation of tragedy In 2018, the New York Times published an essay by 17-year-old Rachel Chestnut, one of the winners of the magazine’s student editorial contest. Her essay – entitled Is True Crime as Entertainment Morally Defensible? – noted that “real life acts of violence” had long been masqueraded before the public, whether as […]

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Obstructing Media Coverage of Deportation Was “Misunderstanding”

Jón Gunnarsson Minister of Justice

Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson says that the most likely explanation for Keflavík Airport staff obstructing journalists during a deportation last November was that they “misunderstood” the request made by the Police Commissioner’s Support Department. Isavia employees turned floodlight against a crowd of reporters, preventing them from filming or photographing the deportation of 15 people last November. The deportation sparked criticism and protests in Iceland and was later ruled illegal.

The Minister’s statement was part of an answer to Pirate Party MP Andrés Ingi Jónsson’s question: “By whom and on what grounds and basis, including legal sources, was a decision made to direct floodlights at media personnel that obstructed their work on the night of November 3, 2022 at Keflavík Airport?” The National Police Commissioner and Isavia issued a joint statement following the incident which said that the two parties regretted that police recommendations were not clear enough. The statement also underlined that police control the implementation of such events.

In his response to Andrés Ingi, the Minister of Justice stated that a review of the incidents implementation, there was no indication that police had specifically directed Isavia employees to obstruct the work of the media in any way. “[T]he most likely explanation for the incident is that there was a misunderstanding regarding the request of the support department to be able to operate without disturbance in the restricted area of the airport, in such a way that the request also included instructions that the movement of the media should be restricted.”

The Minister of Justice stated that work procedure has been review to prevent incidents like this from happening again.

Fréttablaðið, Iceland’s First Freely Distributed Newspaper, Shuttered

Fréttablaðið

The publication of Fréttablaðið, the first newspaper to be distributed for free in Iceland, has ceased. All broadcasts on the television station Hringbraut will also come to a close. Approximately 100 people have been laid off in what the editor of Fréttablaðið has called “a shock for democracy in Iceland.”

Decision caught many by surprise

In a press release this morning, the company Torg (which operates Fréttablaðið, Hringbraut, and DV) announced that a decision had been made to shutter Fréttablaðið, which has been published continuously since 2001. Furthermore, all broadcasts from the television station Hringbraut will cease.

As noted by Vísir, a staff meeting was called at Torg’s office in Hafnartorg, Reykjavík, this morning, where employees were informed of the pending changes. According to Vísir’s sources, there had been “great uncertainty about the future of Fréttablaðið among the employees for some time.” The news, nonetheless, caught many by surprise – not least those who were off duty or were engaged in projects out of town.

An announcement from Torg cites “various reasons” why the operations had failed:

“There are many reasons why Fréttablaðið’s business is unsustainable. Partly it is down to bad luck and partly it is an unavoidable development, as the publication of print media has rapidly subsided, not least in this country. Digital media is gradually taking over. Also, the operating environment of private media in Iceland is uninviting. There is nothing to do but face these facts. All employees of Torg were paid their salaries today.”

The announcement further cites the pandemic as a reason for Fréttablaðið’s operational troubles, as well as a dramatic decline in ad revenues: “During the epidemic, government support for private media was introduced, which was appreciated, although it did not suffice to sustain larger media companies. Subsequently, the government has provided financial support to the activities of the media, but that contribution has dwindled.”

Torg’s announcement states that the operation of the websites DV.is and Hringbraut.is would continue alongside the publication of Iceland Magazine.

Editor speaks out

After the news broke, Sigmundur Ernir Rúnarsson, editor of Fréttablaðið, stated that this was “a sad day” for his colleagues at Torg, who had collaborated on the publication of the newspaper, the operation of its website, alongside the production of television programmes and podcasts. According to Vísir, twelve employees of DV.is will keep their jobs.

Sigmundur Ernir told Vísir that employees had worked hard to “revive Fréttablaðið under very difficult conditions, after the pandemic, after the war in Ukraine, which has had a great impact on the operation, and, in fact, the operation of all private media. There is a cross-political agreement to foster one media outlet – that of the state media. The others can do what they want. Everyone who runs a private media company today knows that they are very heavily targeted by the public sector. [It remains to be seen whether there is any] interest in running a democratic, vigorous media in the country.”

As noted by Vísir, Fréttablaðið was first published on Monday, April 23, 2001. Its first editor was Einar Karl Haraldsson. The publication of the paper marked a turning point in Icelandic media history, as the paper was distributed free of charge to homes and advertising revenue served as the basis for its operations. As a result, the paper soon became the most widely read in the country.

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.”

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].”