A Hurricane Called “English” Is Sweeping Across Iceland – Bubbi

Bubbi Morthens

In an op-ed in Morgunblaðið yesterday, musician Bubbi Morthens criticised the government, the tourism industry, and restaurateurs for pandering to English speakers. It was one thing for the tourism industry to make a profit, Bubbi observed, but another to wage war against the Icelandic language.

A hurricane called “English”

“A hurricane called English is sweeping across the country and uprooting our language,” musician Bubbi Morthens wrote in an article published in Morgunblaðið yesterday.

In the article – which is entitled The War on Language, in reference to an article authored by Nobel Laureate Halldór Laxness, the War on Nature (wherein the latter criticised the government’s plans for the construction of power plants) – Bubbi criticised the growing influence of the English language within Icelandic society.

Reykjavík, he noted, was filled with English signage, restaurants opted for English as their first language, and local interest groups had begun to write letters to the government in the English language.

Roll up your sleeves

While encouraging the tourism industry to “grab a hold of itself,” Bubbi also urged the government, members of parliament, and artists to roll up their sleeves: “We’ve come to a point where all of us who live here have to ask ourselves: Do we want to speak Icelandic? Do we want to read Icelandic? Do we want to sing our Icelandic songs with all the words that we understand with our heart and soul?”

According to Bubbi, if the answer is “yes,” people could no longer sit idly by; the time had come to fight for the mother tongue. “Government of Iceland, parliamentarians of our country, artists, all citizens, wherever we may find ourselves: let’s get a hold of ourselves.”

Bubbi also noted that the tourism industry had to take action. Making a profit was one thing, but waging a war against the Icelandic language was quite another: “Without our language, we are nothing but a fine-natured rock in the North Atlantic. As opposed to an independent nation residing in its own country.”

Everyone welcome

As noted by Vísir, Bubbi concluded his op-ed by clarifying that “everyone was welcome” in Iceland. “The people who want to live in Iceland enrich our country and our culture, but it is important to help them by teaching them to speak our language.”

“Icelandic is the glue that binds us all together, our mother, our father, in fact, our higher power. In Icelandic ‘you can always find an answer,’ the poet observed – and we must, now later than now, find an answer to this war against our mother tongue. Our lifeline. We must all as one, put our foot down and take a stand in defence of our language.”

Iceland’s First Lady Asks: Do Women Exist?

Eliza Reid Guðni Th. Frederik Crown Prince Denmark

Iceland’s First Lady Eliza Reid graced the cover of Morgunblaðið newspaper today, yet her name was not mentioned anywhere in the accompanying text. The cover photo features her shaking hands with Frederik, Crown Prince of Denmark, as he arrived in Iceland yesterday. Both the Prince and President of Iceland Guðni Th. Jóhannesson, who is also in the photo, are named in the text but Eliza’s name is left out. Eliza shared a picture of the cover on her Facebook page today with the hashtag #dowomenexist.

“Summary of this photo caption on the cover of the newspaper today: One man with a name came to dinner at another man with a name’s house. With the visitor was a third man with a name [not pictured]. That is all. #dowomenexist” Eliza wrote.


This is far from the first time Eliza speaks out about sexism. In 2019, she addressed the expectation that diplomats’ “unelected, unpaid” spouses will accompany their partners to official functions, writing: “I am not my husband’s handbag, to be snatched as he runs out the door and displayed silently by his side during public appearances.”

Latest Poll Suggests Government Could Cling to Power

According to a new poll, the coalition government could hold onto power by the narrowest of margins. The Progressive and Independence parties continue to gain in popularity while the Left-Green Movement remains in decline.

Election day tomorrow

The final polls in the lead up to tomorrow’s election suggest a tight race. According to a poll by Morgunblaðið and the market research company MMR, the coalition government could cling to power in the event of a marginal swing (the three parties willing). The Progressive Party, the Independence Party, and the Left-Green Movement would need 32 seats (out of 63) to win a majority. According to the data, the coalition is projected to win only 31 seats; however, the slightest change in outcomes could see the parties gain an additional one or two seats. (A poll conducted by Maskína suggests that the ruling coalition will fall slightly short of a majority.)

The centre-right parties gain while the left declines

As noted by an article in Mbl.is, the MMR pollsuggests that the Progressive, Reform, and Independence parties continue to gain significantly in popularity. The parties on the left, on the other hand, continue to decline; their support appears to have plateaued. The Social Democratic Alliance has lost all of the support that it gained over the past weeks, and the Socialist Party has been in sharp decline, as well. Last week, the Socialists were polling at around 9%, but that support has fallen to approximately 5%.

The People’s Party has gained considerable popularity, and the same holds for the Centre Party, although neither is close to double-digit support.

Forming a coalition could prove difficult

According to projections (predicated on three recent MMR polls), forming a coalition government could prove difficult. Fourteen different coalitions are possible: the Progressive Party is involved in all but one, and the Centre and Independence Parties feature in all four-party coalitions. Only a single three-party coalition could be formed, according to the poll: comprised of the Progressive, Reform, and Independence Parties. As noted by Mbl.is, however, it is unlikely that the parties would risk ruling with such a narrow majority.

Read more about the Parliamentary elections in Iceland here.

Three Major Media Outlets Receive 63% of Government Support

Nineteen privately-owned media outlets will receive financial support from the government this year RÚV reports. The allocation committee received 23 applications requesting a combined ISK 880 million [$6.92 million; €5.84 million] in support. A total of ISK 389 million [$3.06 million; €2.58 million] was distributed to 19 outlets, although 63% this funding went to just three major companies. Two applications were rejected on the basis of having been received after the submission deadline.

Media support applications were reviewed by a three-person allocation committee overseen by the Ministry of Education, Culture, and Science. The committee was staffed by Supreme Court attorney Árni Vilhjálmsson, accountant Stefán Svavarsson, and head of the journalism program at the University of Iceland, Valgerður Anna Jóhannsdóttir, and advised in its efforts by the Icelandic Media Commission.

The highest allocations of roughly ISK 81 million each [$637,443; €537,680] went to three major parent companies. These are Árvakur hf, which publishes the daily paper Morgunblaðið, its online outlet mbl.is, and the radio station K100; Sýn ehf, which operates the Stöð 2 TV channel, the Bylgjan radio station, and the online paper Vísir; and Torg ehf, which publishes the daily paper Fréttablaðið, its online outlet frettabladid.is, and the Hringbraut TV station.

After the top three allocations, the next five grantees were: The Farmers Association of Iceland, which publishes the free farm- and agriculture-focused paper Bændablaðið (ISK 12.4 million [$97,560; €82,333]); online paper Kjarninn (ISK 14.4 million [$113,296; €95,613]); the N4 TV channel (ISK 19.4 million [$152,647; €128,812]); investigative outlet Stundin (ISK 25.3 million [$199,055; €167,986]); and Myllusetur ehf, which publishes the business-focused paper Viðskiptablaðið (ISK 27 million [$212,397; €179,274]).

A temporary initiative
The funding comes as a result of legislation proposed by Minister of Culture Lilja Alfreðsdóttir and passed by parliament earlier this year. Per the terms of the legislation, the state will grant up to ISK 400 million ($3.3 million/€2.7 million) to privately-owned media companies, which can apply for up to 25% reimbursement of eligible expenses: salary costs and payments to contractors working on collecting and disseminating news.

The legislation is a temporary initiative: it provides grants to independent Icelandic media companies this year and next year. Parliament passed similar legislation in 2020 to establish a fund to help independent media companies address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some journalists have argued that such funding is biased toward Iceland’s largest media companies at the expense of smaller, local media.

Operating at a loss
This year’s allocations to Árvakur, Sýn, and Torg mark a shift from last year—two for the worse, and one for the better. In 2020, Árvakur hf received ISK 100 million [$786,967; €663,807] and Sýn ehf received ISK 91 million [$716,028; €604,064]. Torg ehf, on the other hand, received more money this year—in 2020, it was allocated ISK 64.7 million [$509,088; €429,596].

However, in spite of the substantial funding it received, Árvakur operated at a loss of ISK 75 million [$589,854; €498,017] last year. It has, indeed, operated at a loss every year since the company was bought by new owners following the crash in 2009. Sýn has also been operating at a loss. Last year, it lost ISK 405 million [$3.18 million; €2.68 million] and according to current figures, it is still operating at a loss this year. No current data was available for Torg, but according to data obtained from the Icelandic Revenue and Customs office, in 2019, it operated at a loss of ISK 212 million [$1.67 million; €1.41 million].

‘It’s crazy that we’re taking money from the state’
Stundin was quick to point out that the big three received over half of this year’s media grant allocations—63%, to be precise. Interestingly, the allocations process and distribution has drawn criticism even from those who benefit from it. Just last week, Þórhallur Gunnarsson, the head of media and broadcasting at Vodafone and Stöð 2 (owned by Sýn ehf), remarked in an interview that he felt it was wrong for large media companies, such as Sýn and Árvakur, to receive special state support, which he thinks should be reserved for smaller media entities, rural media outlets, and publications with a focus on investigative journalism.

“It’s crazy that we’re taking money from the state and are supported by the government,” said Þórhallur. “We are a hugely powerful media outlet, with a large subscriber base. We have countless opportunities.”

Þórhallur was echoed in his views by one of the owners and editors of the online newspaper Kjarninn, Þórður Snær Júlíusson. “We should improve the whole media landscape with multifaceted measures that benefit large and small outlets alike. Grants for small and growing media companies. And in return, the nation gets a robust and diverse media. Everyone wins.”

Iceland Review is one of the independent publications receiving financial support this year.

Publisher Acquitted on Most Counts of Strike Breaking

Árvakur, the publishing company that owns daily newspaper Morgunblaðið was cleared of all but one charge of strike-breaking during a journalists’ strike that took place on November 8 last year. RÚV reports that the Icelandic Journalists’ Union sued Árvakur for publishing news articles on its mbl.is website during the strike. The case was heard by the Labour Court.

The November 8, 2019 journalists’ strike took place between the hours of 10am and 2pm. During that time, 23 articles were published on mbl.is which the Icelandic Journalists’ Union believed constituted strike breaking. During the same time frame, five articles were written by Árvakur’s editor and CEO, Haraldur Jóhannessen. Some of the articles published during the strike had been previously uploaded to mbl.is’ content management system and set to publish during the strike.

While the Labour Court did not agree that it was strike breaking for Morgunblaðið to have published articles during the strike that had been written before the work stoppage began, they did find Árvakur guilty on one charge, namely bringing in journalist Baldur Arnarson, who is a member of the VR trade union, to write news articles during the strike. The Labour Court found this to violate laws governing union and labour disputes.

The Icelandic Journalists’ Union contended that nine journalists had broken the strike by publishing articles on the mbl.is website during the strike action. Árvakur countersued, saying that the Union’s strike had been unlawful in the first place, a charge that they were also acquitted of by the Labor Court.

No negotiation meeting has been called between the Icelandic Journalists’ Union and the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SÁ), which represents Icelandic businesses since December and no new meeting has been scheduled for the future.


No News in Fréttablaðið Today

Fréttablaðið was published this morning without any news articles. Print journalists went on a 12-hour strike yesterday.

Last week, the Union of Icelandic Journalists voted down a proposed agreement with the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise. The two parties met again this week but adjourned without a contract. Following the meeting, union members went ahead with their fourth proposed strike yesterday

The strike was the first to include print journalists at Morgunblaðið and Fréttablaðið, as well as photographers and videographers. Fréttablaðið – which is distributed every day of the week except Sundays – was published this morning without any news articles. The newspaper contained only freelance articles and advertisements.

Print journalists at Morgunblaðið also went on a 12-hour strike yesterday. The strike did not, however, seem to impact the content of today’s paper. This is not the first time that strikes at Morgunblaðið prove ineffectual. During earlier strikes among web-media journalists at Morgunblaðið, several other journalists who do not usually write news on mbl.is began reporting for the website. The Union of Icelandic Journalists subsequently sued Árvakur, Morgunblaðið’s publisher, for violating the strike. A decision is currently pending in the Icelandic Labour Court. 

Morgunblaðið laid off 15 employees in late November.

Fifteen Laid Off at Morgunblaðið Newspaper

Fifteen staff members have been laid off by Árvakur, Morgunblaðið newspaper’s publisher. The timing of the layoffs is notable, as several of the paper’s staff have been participating in weekly strike action, Vísir reports. The layoffs include at least five staff members who signed a statement criticising Morgunblaðið’s violation of striking journalists.

The layoffs include three sportswriters, as well as Emilía Björnsdóttir, who has been the head of the paper’s photography division since 1974. Sports reporter Guðmundur Hilmarsson, one of those laid off, had worked at the paper for nearly 20 years, while news reporter Anna Lilja Þórisdóttir, who also lost her job, had been working at the paper for nearly ten years.

Journalists are scheduled to strike from 10.00am to 10.00pm tomorrow if the Union of Icelandic Journalists (BÍ) and the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SÁ) cannot reach an agreement by then.

Árvakur has around 300 employees at Morgunblaðið, mbl.is, and radio station K100. The company has faced operational difficulties recently, with exponentially growing losses over the past three years.

Journalists’ Strike Violated at Morgunblaðið and RÚV

Morgunblaðið newspaper and national broadcaster RÚV both violated a web media strike last Friday, according to The Union of Icelandic Journalists (BÍ). Vísir reports that the Union plans to appeal the violations before the Icelandic Labour Court. Journalists are scheduled to strike again this Friday.

Collective agreements between the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA) and the BÍ ran out at the beginning of the year, but months of negotiations have not led to a consensus.

Last Friday, reporters for online media, photographers, and videographers at Icelandic National Broadcaster RÚV, as well as Fréttablaðið, Morgunblaðið, and Sýnar went on strike between 10.00am and 2.00pm. Hjálmar Jónsson, chairperson of the Journalists’ Union, says Morgunblaðið violated that strike on 30 accounts, with one violation occurring at RÚV.

Morgunblaðið journalists from the paper’s news and sports departments released a statement following the strike on Friday. The statement asserts that as the legally sanctioned strike took effect, “several journalists at Morgunblaðið, who do not normally write news on mbl.is, began to write news on mbl.is. In addition a former summer employee and a freelance writer were called to write news for mbl.is.” As per the statement, the reporting was carried out “with the knowledge and will of the editor and CEO of Morgunblaðið,” Davíð Oddsson and Haraldur Jóhannessen.

“By submitting this statement, we want to make it clear that we bear no responsibility for the news and publications that were written and published on mbl.is during the legally organised actions of members of the Union of Icelandic Journalists,” the statement concludes, followed by 20 signatures.

Hjálmar called the actions a “determined intention to violate” the strike, which he says media were informed of on October 10. He not optimistic that the Labour Court will make a ruling on the matter before the next scheduled strike in three days.

Donations to Independence Party Surpass Legal Limit

Bjarni Benediktsson, Independence Party chairman.

The Independence Party received donations well over the legal limit from a single entity in 2013, 2015, 2016, and 2017. Kjarninn reports that most of the excess contributions come from businesses in the ownership of a single family, which also owns the largest share of the publisher of Morgunblaðið newspaper.

The Icelandic National Audit Office has requested the Independence Party refund the contributions of ISK 1.4 million ($11,500/€10,100), the majority of which were received from companies in the ownership of the so-called Ísfélag family, or companies in the ownership of Guðbjörg Matthíasdóttir and her relations. Companies in the family’s ownership made contributions to the Independence Party that went ISK 500,000 ($4,100/€3,600) over the legal limit in 2015, 2016, and 2017. The party has reimbursed the related companies for their excess contributions in 2017, but has yet to return excess contributions from prior years.

Maximum contributions raised

Between 2013-2017, Icelandic law stipulated that a single legal entity could not exceed contributions of ISK 400,000 ($3,300/€2,900) per year to any political party. The regulation also states that distinct legal entities under shared ownership are considered as one “if the same party or the same parties own a majority of the share capital, initial capital, or voting rights in both or all legal entities.” The limit was increased to ISK 550,000 just a few days ago, but the regulation pertaining to related legal entities remains. Whether the new or the old limit is considered, the contributions from the Ísfélag family to the Independence Party between 2013-2017 exceeded what law permits.

Contributers own Morgunblaðið publisher

Companies connected to the Ísfélag family have just under a 30% share in Árvakur, the publisher of Morgunblaðið newspaper. The family got involved in the paper when it bought Árvakur alongside a group of parties, mostly related to the fishing industry. A few months later, the new owners appointed Davíð Oddsson, former chairman of the Independence Party, as the paper’s editor, a job he still holds today. Since Árvakur changed ownership in 2009, its shareholders have invested over ISK 1.4 billion ($11.5m/€10.1m) in the publisher, which has lost around ISK 1.8 billion ($14.8m/€13m) during the period.