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. 

Amendment Aims to Increase Reporting on Domestic Abuse

Nurses Hospital Landsspítalinn við Hringbraut

Health Minister Willum Þórs Þórsson’s bill to amend the Healthcare Practitioners Act has been approved by Parliament. The amendment clarifies the authority of healthcare professionals to report cases of domestic violence to the police.

Clarifies the authority of healthcare professionals

As noted in a press release on the government’s website yesterday, a bill proposed by Health Minister Willum Þór Þórsson to amend the Healthcare Practitioners Act has successfully gained approval from Parliament. This amendment is aimed at providing clarity regarding the authority of healthcare professionals to report cases of domestic violence to the police. The consultation process with the victim, who seeks medical assistance at a healthcare facility, is emphasised in the amendment. It clearly outlines the information that may be shared with the police, enabling them to take appropriate measures to ensure the victim’s safety and provide the necessary support.

As highlighted in the press release, healthcare facilities serve as crucial points of contact for victims of domestic violence, with healthcare professionals often being the first and sometimes only individuals to become aware of such incidents. Conversely, the majority of cases reported to the police stem from calls made from homes, while only approximately 2% of domestic violence reports originate from healthcare institutions, as stated in the amendment’s notes. Findings from a doctoral study conducted in 2021 revealed that, on average, one woman seeks assistance at the National University Hospital in Fossvogur every other day due to physical injuries resulting from domestic violence. Records from the hospital indicate, however, that out of the cases involving women admitted between 2005 and 2019 with physical injuries caused by domestic violence, the police were involved in only 12% of those incidents.

Increased flow of information

The Health Minister’s amendment aims to enhance the exchange of information between the healthcare system and the police, with the primary objective of safeguarding and supporting victims of domestic abuse while reducing the likelihood of recurring violence. Moreover, this amendment aligns with the recommendations put forth by the Council of Europe’s Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. The Convention recently proposed that the Icelandic government establish a clear channel for healthcare practitioners to report instances of domestic violence to the police.

The press release highlighted the welfare committee’s stance on the need to strengthen collaboration between health institutions and the police in their joint efforts against domestic violence. This amendment plays a pivotal role in advancing that cause, emphasising the importance of “breaking down barriers to information sharing across different sectors.” By doing so, the authorities would be able to better ensure the safety of victims and enhance their trust in the available resources.

Standardised procedures for receiving victims of domestic violence

The press release concludes by highlighting the ongoing efforts to establish a standardised procedure within the healthcare system for receiving victims of domestic violence. These procedures are slated to be adopted in the coming fall and subsequently implemented across all health institutions in Iceland.

The primary objective is to ensure that victims receive appropriate healthcare, which entails not only the involvement of a doctor and nurse but also establishing stronger connections with social workers and trauma teams. Simultaneously, these procedures aim to ensure that all domestic violence cases are consistently registered and handled in a comparable manner, guaranteeing that victims receive equitable services regardless of their place of residence or financial status.

It is important to note that the implementation of these procedures is separate from the aforementioned amendment to the Act on Healthcare Practitioners. However, both endeavours share a common goal of enhancing the handling of domestic violence cases, supporting the work of healthcare professionals in such situations, and improving services provided to victims.