Lack of Access to Grindavík “Dystopian”, Journalists Claim

An ambulance lingers just outside of Grindavík

The Suðurnes police commissioner has limited access to Grindavík for journalists since the January 14 volcanic eruption. Sigríður Dögg Auðunsdóttir, the president of the Union of Icelandic Journalists, told Heimildin that it was dystopian and surrealistic that the commissioner was “applying censorship and limiting journalists’ freedom of speech by limiting journalists’ access to the area with no rational cause.”

The January 14 volcanic eruption near Grindavík destroyed three houses, caused crevasses to form across town, and displaced the 3,800 inhabitants for the foreseeable future. The town had already been evacuated once before, on November 10 last year, due to seismic activity. Grindavík residents await a government decision on how they can be helped while displaced.

Major historical event

Journalists were allowed to enter Grindavík yesterday for two hours. This was the first time they’ve been allowed to enter since January 15. Authorities say that the restrictions are due to consideration for the residents and the vast emergency response in the area. The police have not received any written requests from residents asking them to limit journalists’ access to the town.

Sigríður Dögg says that journalists should be allowed to document major historical events, such as last weekend when residents transported their belongings from the danger area. “Especially since the commissioner has no legal foundation for these restrictions, she said.”

Chaperoned visit on a bus

The journalists were herded into a bus and chaperoned by emergency response personnel. A special unit police officer decided where the bus went. A half-dozen stops were made in town, limited to areas with crevasses or damages, but nowhere near people. Only two areas were designated for flying drones to photograph. Heimildin reports that attending journalists were unhappy with the arrangements.

In November, the union petitioned the Ministry of Justice to increase access to the danger area, but the ministry has not responded. “History has shown us that documentation of major events in Iceland’s history is incredibly important going forward,” Sigríður added. “Especially for those who experienced the disaster.”

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.

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.

 

Media Bill Faces Opposition

A bill mandating financial support of private media companies is no longer on Parliament’s agenda for this session, reportedly due to opposition from the Independence Party, Kjarninn reports. Debate on the bill, which was scheduled for yesterday, is no longer on Alþingi’s agenda.

Media bill majorly revised

The media bill proposes partially reimbursing editorial costs of private media companies. The bill’s initial draft proposed a 25% reimbursement scheme, similar to existing programs the Icelandic government has for music and film production in the country. The bill’s latest revision, released last Friday, has reduced that rate to 18%, a change that affects smaller media companies more than large ones.

The bill’s new version aims to max out government support of private media at ISK 400 million ($3.3m/€3m), capping maximum payouts to any single company at ISK 50 million ($410,000/€370,000). At least three media companies – Morgunblaðið publisher Árvakur, Fréttablaðið publisher Torg, and DV publisher Free Media would likely receive the maximum payout, provided they fulfilled the conditions set by the government. The bill stipulates additional support of media workers whose salaries fall into the lowest tax bracket.

Opposition within

Kjarninn’s sources say that opposition from the Independence Party, a member of the three-party governing coalition, is the reason behind Parliament’s shelving of the bill. Independence Party MPs have expressed strong opposition to the bill, despite it already being passed by the government and all governing parties. Brynjar Níelsson, one of the party’s MPs, described the proposed legislation as “stillborn.”

Media in tight spot

As elsewhere in the world, Icelandic media companies are facing a challenging operational environment. One of the country’s largest papers, Morgunblaðið, laid off fifteen employees last month, following exponentially growing losses over the past three years. Journalists’ collective agreements ran out at the beginning of the year, and negotiations are at a standstill, leading to several media worker strikes over the past few weeks.

Not enough to vote

The much-discussed media bill was one of three parliamentary issues submitted past deadline, and thus required a vote in the chamber in order to be added to parliament’s agenda. When the vote was scheduled to take place, there were not enough MPs in the house to carry it out.

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.

Journalists to Strike for Fourth Time Tomorrow

The Union of Icelandic Journalists (BÍ) will strike for the fourth time tomorrow, RÚV reports. Tomorrow’s strike will include print journalists at Morgunblaðið and Fréttablaðið, as well as photographers and videographers.

Tomorrow’s strike – the first to involve print journalists – will take place between 10 am tomorrow until 10 pm. The first three strikes, which took place in November, included only reporters, photographers, and videographers for online media.

Last week, Union members voted down a proposed agreement with the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA). The Confederation met with the Union of Icelandic journalists yesterday, but they adjourned without a contract. The two parties have not scheduled another meeting.

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.

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. 

Journalists Strike for Twelve Hours Today

Having failed to reach an agreement with the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise (SA), members of the Union of Icelandic Journalists (BÍ) will go on a twelve-hour strike at 10:00 AM today, RÚV reports. The strike extends to reporters, photographers, and videographers for online media at Fréttablaðið, Morgunblaðið, RÚV, and Vísir. Print journalists will not go on strike.

This is the third strike that BÍ organises. If no agreement is reached next week, union members, including print journalists for Morgunblaðið and Fréttablaðið, will go on strike on Thursday, November 28 – the day before Black Friday. As myriad advertisements are run in newspapers on Black Friday, the day has become one of the biggest days for print media in Iceland.

Hjálmar Jónsson, Chairman of the Union of Icelandic Journalists, stated that it was a great disappointment and “incomprehensible” that no agreement had been reached yesterday: they had been so close. Further, and more extensive, strikes will be organised in December. This is the first time in 40 years that members of the Union of Icelandic Journalists have gone on strike. The union has scheduled at a meeting for members at noon today.

Web-Media Journalists on Strike Until 18:00 Today

At 10:00 AM this morning, reporters, photographers, and videographers for online media went on an eight-hour strike. The strike is organised by the Union of Icelandic Journalists (BÍ) and will extend to four media outlets: Fréttablaðið, Morgunblaðið, RÚV, and Vísir.

During the first strike, which occurred last Friday, November 8, several journalists at Morgunblaðið (among them contractors and managers) – who do not normally write news on www.mbl.is – filled in for their colleagues, in an act that was condemned by Morgunblaðið’s web-media journalists. RÚV was also accused of violating the strike. The Union of Icelandic Journalists has since sued the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise over these violations.

As the majority of web-media journalists employed by Vísir and Fréttablaðið are members of the Union of Icelandic Journalists, it is likely that no news will be published on the two companies’ websites today. Given that a large portion of journalists on RÚV are members of The Society of Broadcast Journalists (a different union), the strike will likely have a smaller impact on RÚV’s website (the Society of Broadcast Journalists did, however, declare their support for their colleagues’ strike).

Further Strikes in the Offing

Members of the Union of Icelandic Journalists voted to strike in early November (for the first time in 40 years), after ten months of negotiation failed to produce an agreement between the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise and the union. Of 211 members, 131 voted, with over 83% in support of the strike.

If no agreement is reached over the next few days, the aforementioned group of web-media journalists will go on a twelve-hour strike next Friday, November 22. If no agreement is reached after that date, journalists at Fréttablaðið and Morgunblaðið will also go on strike on November 28.

Representatives from the Union of Icelandic Journalists met with the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise yesterday. After the meeting, Hjálmar Jónsson, Chairman of the Union of Icelandic Journalists, stated that the two parties were far from reaching an agreement. Halldór Benjamín Þorbergsson, Chairman of SA, stated that the demands of journalists extend beyond 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”). According to Halldór, an offer similar to other offers made to members of SA had been extended toward the Union of Iceland Journalists, which the Union declined.

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.