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Media Landscapes

Iceland

Written by Birgir Gudmundsson

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Icelandis an island in the North Atlantic, located in a “hot spot“ on the mostly underwater Atlantic ridge.  Volcanoes, lava, hot springs and glaciers characterise the landscape.  With a population of about 320,000, Icelanders speak their own language, Icelandic, which is in essence the medieval Old Norse that the Vikings spoke.  Just over half of the population lives in the South West corner of the country, in the capital city of Reykjavík and the surrounding area. The rest of the population lives in towns, villages and valleys by the coast all around the island. The single largest town outside the metropolitan area is Akureyri in the north.

Icelandwas settled in the 900s by Viking emigrants from Norway and their Irish slaves, and for some centuries a prosperous society thrived there, both in terms of economy and culture. This was the period when the great Icelandic sagas were written, literature that constituted the most advanced literary exercise in Europe at the time and is still today the basis for Icelandic cultural heritage.

However, this golden period was followed by centuries of poverty, degradation and foreign domination, first by Norway and then by Denmark.  During this time the harsh natural conditions such as volcanic eruptions, earthquakes or extended winters due to sea ice at the coast, added to problems caused by social and political developments.

In the 19th century there was a nationalistic awakening and Icelanders were moved by the waves of liberal ideology created by the European revolutions of 1830 and 1848.  Important steps on the road to national independence were taken in the latter part of the 19th century, culminating in Icelandic home rule in 1904 and national sovereignty with a common monarch with Denmark in 1918.   In 1944 Iceland became a republic declaring full independence from the Danish kingdom.

Living standards and general economic wellbeing have been relatively high in Iceland in the last decades and the country has ranked high in terms of GDP.  Iceland prides itself in being a modern Scandinavian welfare state with distinct cultural heritage, universal literacy, comprehensive school system, theatres, a professional symphony orchestra and eight universities.  However the financial crisis hit Iceland massively in 2008 and all three major banks in the country went bankrupt.  The country reacted to the recession with massive cutbacks in public spending, foreign debt and unemployment up to the unprecedented level of 8% in early 2010.

Icelandwas a founding member of NATO in 1949 and had for the latter part of the 20th century special relations with the US, not least because of a US military base in Keflavik – a base that began to shrink in importance in the 1990s and was finally closed in the early 2000s.  With the change in international relations following the fall of communism the US connection has grown looser. At the same time Iceland has steadily grown closer to Europe, becoming a member of EFTA in 1970 and entering the European Economic area in 1994. In 2009 Iceland filed an application to join the European Union, although this has created considerable political debate and controversy domestically.

The history of the print media in Iceland from the middle of the 19th century up to the present day can be divided into six periods, each with its own particular characteristics. The boundaries between these periods are sometimes unclear, and putting an exact date on the transition between periods is not always possible. The periods are:

  1. Post and Tidings (1773–1848)
  2. Editorial Sheets and the Struggle for Independence (1848–1910)
  3. The Early Years of the Newspaper  (1910–16)
  4. The All-embracing Political Party Press (1916–60)
  5. Decline of the Political Party Press (1960–2000)
  6. The Market Media (2000–)

 

The first period begins with the publication of the first Icelandic journal ‘Islandske Maaneds Tidender’ in October 1773 for the first time. The journal was first and foremost  addressed to a Danish readership  and came out until 1776.  It, as indeed other posts and tidings that followed until the mid-19th century, was written for the ruling class in the country.
The revolutions of 1848 marked the beginning of a new era,  the period of editorial sheet and struggle for independence.  New newspapers emerged as the second half of the 19th century saw political and social discussion revolve almost exclusively around issues of independence from Denmark.   Many titles came out in this period, albeit some just for a short period of time with one or two leading papers surviving for extended periods of time.   However what the newspapers of the time had in common was that the editors were also the owners and ran the papers as their private organ expressing their own points of view. Hence a change of editor meant a change in editorial policy of the paper.
In the early 1900s the main lines in the struggle for independence became clearer  and the editorial policies of newspapers  became more partisan and less dependent on personal opinions of individual editors.  This marked the beginning of a new era when the papers became organs of political beliefs rather than private opinions of  the editors.
The third period in media history can be said to have begun with newspaper publication in the country at the end of 1910. Iceland had undergone extensive social change, the social, economic and political reality had radically altered. This was a period of new experiments in journalism and interestingly enough the two daily newspapers that survived began as non-partisan news based papers.  
Urbanisation and new industries created on the one hand a new class of working people and on the other hand caused uncertainty and concern for the status of older professions. In addition to the political articulation of the interests of the upper class the working class began to organise in trade unions and parties. The same was true for farmers in the rural areas who were faced with a completely new worldview.  And then, the establishment of newspapers that became the political extension of this class-based political system, followed.  Throughout the better part of the 20th century the media system was characterised by a political party press, with four or five newspapers representing the Icelandic four party system. The bourgeois press was for most of that time considerably stronger than the press to the left and centre. Considering that local and regional newspapers were in fact a reflection of the national press it is safe to say that all media in the country at this time were more or less politically connected. Not just the party newspapers themselves, but also other media such as the State Radio that was for all intents and purposes held hostage by a political regulatory and surveillance board. 

The unwinding of the hard grip of the political parties of the press was a long process that can be said to span nearly 40 years. During this long period important changes and innovations were introduced in the realm of media. The situation was thus very different in the beginning of this period from what it was towards its end.  The underlying driving force that characterised the evolution was a gradual emphasis on non-partisan and independent journalism. The emphasis on political party evangelism gave way and the emphasis was placed on credible and balanced information furthering the public good.  

As the new millennium dawned, bringing to an end the period of the Political Party Press, the market media period got underway; professional working methods achieved through education and preparation are now a priority for everyone involved in the field.  

The single most important development in the print media in Iceland in recent history is the emergence of the daily newspaper Frettabladid  in 2001 and its consequent success in the newspaper market.  Prior to Frettabladid´s entrance three daily newspapers were on the market, two of them seemed to stand strong, Morgunbladid dominated the morning paper market and the tabloid paper DV dominated the market in the afternoon. The third newspaper, Dagur, was in a much weaker position and was amalgamated with DV in 2000.  Frettabladid is a free newspaper delivered door to door in the largest urban centres of Iceland and it was received well from the beginning. However the paper ran into financial difficulties in its earliest stages but took off after new and wealthy investors from the retail business took it over in 2002.  Frettabladid had an enormous impact on the other newspapers and already in February 2003 it overtook Morgunbladid as the most read newspaper in the country according to Gallup measurements. By the end of the year it had a 65% average readership as opposed to Morgunbladid´s 53%.  Morgunbladid had to downsize, as did DV, and both papers felt the presence of Frettabladid through shrinking advertising revenues and subscription numbers.  In May 2005 another national free daily newspaper was established, Bladid.  Although relatively successful in terms of readership this new free paper did not prove to be economically viable and in 2007 it was bought by the publisher of Morgunbladid and operated for one year as its free sister paper under the new name: “24 hours”.  However in October 2008 the publication of “24Hours” was terminated.  DV has in the last few years experienced difficulties. It went bankrupt in 2003 and was re-established by new owners as an aggressive tabloid paper. In 2006 it ran into difficulties as its aggressive editorial policy caused controversy and public criticism following the suicide of a person who was a subject of one of the paper’s stories.  As a result the paper cut down its publishing days and is now, in the hands of new owners, published three times a week.  In addition to DV there is published a national weekly newspaper, but this paper is less general and focuses on business matters as its name suggests, Vidskiptabladid or the “Businesspaper”.  Thus there are at present in Iceland two daily papers, Morgunbladid that is a subscription paper and the free paper Frettabladid.  According to a Gallup survey in April 2010 Morgunbladid enjoys just under 34% average readership while Frettabladid has an average readership of 64%.

Local and regional papers in Iceland are not very strong, the strongest ones being located close to larger urban centres. All in all there are just over 20 local or regional newspapers, of which 16 are published outside of the metropolitan area.  The papers that are covering districts in the capital are published monthly, but most of the other papers are published weekly. Some of the local papers, in particular those that come out in densely populated areas are free newspapers but those that are published in the countryside of towns outside of the Southwest corner of the country are subscription papers. For an extended period of time the regional papers have had an insecure economic foundation, especially in regions outside of the capital area. The Icelandic local media is important to community viability, but at the same time the local markets which the local media serve are too small and sparsely populated to give the local media firms a viable economic foundation. 

In Iceland a variety of magazines are published, both of a general nature and special subject journals.  The largest publisher of magazines is “Birtingur”, with 11 magazine titles in its portfolio. Other publishers are much smaller.

Ownership of traditional print media in Iceland is highly concentrated with two main ownership blocks. Ownership of newspapers is however intertwined with broadcast media, as there are no special limits on cross ownership between these two types of media.  The two large publishing houses are Arvakur, on the one hand, and 365 media, on the other.  Arvakur publishes Morgunbladid and owns a large and powerful printing machine which prints all kinds of smaller papers, leaflets and advertising booklet and often distributes these printing goods through its newspaper distribution system. Subscribers to Morgunbladid thus often get all sorts of junk mail with their paper.  The 365 media on the other hand publishes the free paper Frettabladid, the most read newspaper in Iceland. But 365 media also owns and runs a TV and radio station with a number of channels.  A small company, partly owned by the editors and some staff, publishes DV.  Vidskiptabladid is also run by a relatively small publishing company called Myllusteinn ehf.

After two unsuccessful attempts to establish viable private radio in the towns of Reykjavík and Akureyri in the late 1920s, a national State Broadcasting Radio, RÚV, was established in 1930. The radio was a new and revolutionary medium that entered into a system of party political newspapers. All parties recognised the potential political power of the radio and thus the RÚV became a political hot potato whilst at the same time becoming a unifying platform for nation building and national identity.  Almost from the very beginning the station was overseen by a politically appointed Board of Supervisors, which checked if there was any political bias in the firm’s operation and broadcasts. RUV was from the very beginning extremely preoccupied with keeping a non-partisan image and practices. In the various guidelines for the RUV newsroom in the period from 1930-1986 one can see that the institution preferred to avoid controversy even at the expense of telling an interesting news story.  This policy may not have delivered the most interesting or even the most important news, but the news RUV brought to the people was considered reliable and true. This confidence in RUV is reflected in the exceptional trust RUV still enjoys today among the Icelandic people compared to other media organisations.  Results from the marketing firm MMR in Iceland showed that in May 2010 only 15.4% of Icelanders trusted the media in general. However some 51.8% of the population trusted RUV.

From 1930 – 1986 there was a state monopoly on radio and television broadcasting and up to 1983 RÚV only broadcasted on one radio channel. The programming policy was an ambitious one, with a high proportion of cultural and educational content and little light entertainment and pop or rock music. As a response to growing criticism on programme policy and the state monopoly RUV began broadcasting on a second channel, Ras 2, in 1983. This second channel was a more easy listening station covering some current affairs and playing popular music.  It instantly became very popular.

The state monopoly on broadcasting was abolished at the beginning of 1986 in compliance with a law that was passed in 1985.  Private stations emerged in that year, the first one being Bylgjan, which was in many respects a similar station in terms of programming to Ras 2. However, Bylgjan became very popular and introduced almost from its first days real competition on the radio broadcasting market. Other private stations emerged in the following years, both commercial national stations and local stations and there was for some period of time a community Radio Station in Reykjavík. However in the long run, only Bylgjan and the two RUV channels have lasted as the most important general programming Radio stations. However the radio market has in recent years become increasingly fragmented, as a number of specialised music stations and talk radio stations have emerged.   In addition to these three stations there are in Iceland a dozen or so stations that have certain smaller target groups. Among these are stations that play almost exclusively certain types of music or are, for example, directed towards young people.

Ownership of the major radio stations is mainly held by two parties, the State Broadcasting Company, RUV on the one hand and 365 media on the other.   RUV runs its two channels and has a combined average listening for both channels of about 25-26 % of total listening time. That is considerably less than Bylgjan which is owned by 365 media, which has around 50% of the total listening time, according to the Capacent Gallup media measurements and thus is by far the most popular radio station in Iceland.  In addition to Bylgjan, 365 media runs four smaller radio channels that are aimed at more specific target groups.  Other radio stations are owned by smaller companies or individuals and do not take part in listening measurements that are made public.

The Icelandic Broadcasting Company, RUV, made the first Icelandic television broadcasting in 1966. In its early years Icelandic television was limited in scope with broadcasts in the evening three days a week. It was not until 1968 that the Icelandic television began broadcasting six days a week. RUV stuck to the custom until 1987 of keeping one day a week, Thursdays, without TV broadcasts. Similarly the RUV-TV did not broadcast at all for the whole month of July due to summer holidays until 1983. 

However with increased competition with video and in particular other TV stations that where established following the termination of state monopoly of broadcasting, the RUV television gradually increased its broadcasting time and revised its programming in order to make it more appealing.  Still today the RUV television broadcasts on only one channel, for 14 hours a day in 2009; while private stations were on air for considerably longer.  The proportion of reruns on the RUV channel is however much lower. In 2007 a new law was passed in parliament about the structure and governance of RUV. The main change the new law entailed was that RUV became a ‘public stock company’, i.e. owned by the state but with organisational characteristics of a classical stock company. This was seen as a means to increase the managerial responsibility within the company, make it more efficient and productive.  Thereby RUV was seen as being able to operate as a private company, although it was in fact still a public one.  At the same time the RUV lost its ability to collect users fees, but instead a universal tax was introduced to fund the company. The public service duties of RUV are defined in a special service contract the company makes with the ministry of Education and Culture, each contract lasting for a period of five years.

In 1986, when the state monopoly on television ended, a private TV station, Stöð 2 (Channel 2) was established. This was a subscription channel that scrambled most parts of its programming.  Already when Stod 2 began its broadcasting it had sold tens of thousands of subscriptions, but in spite of its popularity the company was faced with some financial difficulties.  However the company survived albeit with some changes in ownership and has grown to become an integral part of the 365 media conglomerate.  It constitutes the core of a number of digitalised TV channels that 365 media runs, the other channels being more specialised in topics such as sports and movies. In addition to these 365 media offers a variety of foreign TV stations through its digital connections with the company Digital Ísland that uses the digital distribution network of the Vodafone telephone company. 

The third player on the television market is a private television station called SkjárEinn (Screen One). It was established in 1999 and made a name for itself by showing a lot of American sitcoms and entertainment programmes along with a fair amount of low budget but popular Icelandic production.  With the advent of digitalisation SkjárEinn has become a part of Skjárinn which is a digital television firm providing the TV material of SkjárEinn as well as a consortium of foreign TV stations and an interactive Video On Demand (VOD) service. This service is available through both major digital distribution systems in the country, the distribution system of the telephone company Siminn, and the abovementioned firm Digital Ísland which links to the Vodafone telco system.

According to the Capacent Gallup media measurements for May 2010 RUV has the most following with about 46% of the total viewing time for people 12-80 years old. Comparable figures for Stod 2 are 28% and 7.5 % for SkjárEinn.  It is however clear that RUV is more popular with people over 50 than the other stations that have a younger audience profile.

Icelandic content featured in the programming of the TV stations is highest in RUV and according to the Icelandic Statistical Bureau in 2008 some 46% of its total content was Icelandic material while it was only 12% in SkjarEinn and 17% in Stod 2.  However, the proportion of Icelandic content on private channels is considerably higher during prime time than it is in their total broadcasting hours. 

RUV and Stod 2/Bylgjan run news departments and these provide both TV news and also Radio news.   The RUV news department produces news for the TV’s main newscast at 19:00 in the evening and for a shorter newscast at 22:00. It also provides news for RUV radio which has its main newscast at 12:20 and at 18:00 hours.  Furthermore there are shorter newscasts on the hour every hour day and night except at 04:00 and 05:00 hours. Last but not the least the RUV news department provides news on the company’s website and on Text TV.

The Stod 2/Bylgjan news coverage in also quite extensive, with one major news cast on Stod 2 at 18:30 and a major news cast on radio at 12:00 noon. Bylgjan then has shorter news casts on the hour every hour during the daytime.

SkjarEinn has shown interest in running a news department and for some six months last winter, the station sent out news casts that the daily newspaper Morgunbladid had prepared and also published on its website. 

The first Icelandic Cinema, ‘Reykjavík Biograftheater’, opened in November 1906. Among the first films to be shown was a news reel of Icelandic parliamentarians visiting the Danish king.   Throughout the 20th century the cinema was a popular form of entertainment and in the mid-1960s there were about 40 cinemas in the country. However in the early 1980s the number of cinemas began to decline, although the number of screens in each theatre increased.  In 2004 the number of cinemas in the country was down to just over 20 and the number of seats per capita has slightly decreased in the last two decades.  That reflects a slight decline in attendance in the last decades. Icelanders see about 200 premiers every year and more than 95% of them are foreign. Domestic films only constitute 2-5% of the film premiers in Iceland.  US films dominate the Icelandic cinema with three out of every four films premiered being from the United States.

In the period 1926-1977 seven Icelandic films were produced. In contrast 87 Icelandic films were made between 1978 and 2005 or just over three films every year on average. Film production has therefore in the last three decades been a relatively thriving industry and there is considerable experience and know how in Iceland in this field.  The legal framework of the film industry is well defined and on this legal basis the industry is subsidised by the state. Grants are distributed through the Icelandic Film Centre in an open process based on certain explicit criteria.   The law also covers the Film Censorship institution that looks at all films and videos shown in the country, which checks if they a suitable for viewing and if some age restrictions should be suggested.  In 1999 a temporary law was implemented which stated that special VAT refunds would be available for the production of films. This refund was available both to Icelandic and foreign film companies and stimulated considerable filmmaking in general in Iceland.

Following the economic recession grants for filmmaking have shrunk and also the amount of money the state television is putting into domestic drama and filmmaking. This has sparked criticism of government policies and concerns about the future of Icelandic filmmaking.

There are two general telephone companies running in Iceland Siminn on the one hand and Vodafone on the other. Siminn is a direct descendant of the former state run Telecommunication Company that was privatised in stages and finally sold to private investors in 2005.

Both of these companies have multiple ties with different mobile phone operations, Internet providers and media. In the mobile phone market there are some three different companies that compete with the big two, Siminn and Vodafone.  These companies are Tal, Nova, and Alterna. Thus there is active competition in different telecommunication services with a dozen or so Internet providers and about 5 providers of fibre optic cable connections.  Siminn and Vodafone are important players in all these fields.  Both of the large telecommunication companies have direct ownership connections with media organisations. Vodafone is linked to Digital Island and the 365 media conglomerate, while Siminn has direct ownership connections with the TV provider Skjarinn. Skjarinn in turn cooperated for a while with Morgunbladid on some news production programs. Thus two blocks can be detected in relation to the media and telecommunication companies. On the one hand there is Siminn and Skjarinn and perhaps also, but somewhat distant,  Morgunbladid. On the other hand there is Vodafone, Digital Island, and 365 media (Stod 2, Bylgjan, Frettabladid).

The use of the Internet is widespread in Iceland with over 90% of the population using computer and the Internet.   According to a Eurostat news release in December 2009 Iceland and Holland are at the top of the list of Internet users within the European Economic Area. Icelanders use the Internet mostly for information and communication, but to a lesser degree for shopping.   Already in 2006 just under 90% of Icelandic households had access to a computer and the Internet and the percentage of households with high speed Internet connection, such as ADSL or SDSL, has increased greatly in recent years, making it now by far the most common connection.

Basically all traditional media offer content online. The bigger media companies have comprehensive websites offering content in the form of video, pictures and texts. This content is created by journalist and media staff for the more traditional outlets such as TV, radio or newspapers, but also tailored to the web. However, a considerable amount of content is produced exclusively for the web.  Morgunbladid has it own website,  which is a popular and influential website, with news, videos, entertainment and blogs.  The website of the 365 media conglomerate, Visir.is, similarly offers a variety of news, videos, entertainment and blogs.

RUV also has its own website with news and information,  but RUV is not allowed to sell advertisements on its website.

An interesting type of online news/opinion media has occurred in recent years with the emergence of what can be called collection websites. There are two quite popular such sites that are linked to news feeds of all the major online news sources and so are automatically updated. However these sites have in addition their own editorial staff writing news stories and thereby giving the sites their distinct character. Furthermore these sites have made contracts with some popular bloggers who blog on different issues and their blogs or references to them get highlighted on the page as if their opinion was news. This practice may blur somewhat the distinction between fact and opinion, but apparently there is demand for this kind of content.  The most important websites of this nature are Pressan.is  and Eyjan.is.

The digitalisation of the Icelandic media is almost complete, in that all media use digital means for acquiring, storing and distributing information and content material.  All TV and radio are distributed through digital means but the main TV stations and most radio stations also use a terrestrial analogue distribution. The two main phone companies, Siminn and Vodafone, run distribution systems for digital TV where Video On Demand and other services are offered.  Furthermore, many TV and radio programmes, such as new and current events, are also transmitted via the Internet.

According to a 2006 report of the Icelandic Statistical Bureau e-commerce is not quite as popular in Iceland as in some other European countries in spite of the common general use of the Internet.  But other activities on the Internet are growing in popularity and social network media have gained momentum. In particular Facebook has become an important medium with over 61% of Icelanders being Facebook users.  A poll among politicians standing in the May 2010 municipal elections in Iceland showed that they considered Facebook the second most important medium in the election campaign to reach the general public in their respective municipalities, second only to local and regional newspapers.

In Iceland there are no independent national news agencies. The big media companies, RUV, 365 media and Arvakur Publishing Company (Morgunbladid) sometimes function as if they had an internal news agency in the sense that different media outlets within the company can make use of a running news story.

There are only two unions specifically related to media workers, but media people, in particular technical staff and support staff are also in other unions. The media unions are the Journalist Union of Iceland and the RUV News Reporters Society. All editorial media staff in the Icelandic media is in one of these two unions, the Journalist Union being by far the larger one. All journalists of the print media and of the private broadcasting and new media stations belong to the Journalist Union. The RUV New Reporters Society is limited to reporters in the State-broadcasting newsroom and it only deals with wage related issues.  The Journalist Union on the other hand both negotiates wage rates and rights for its members and keeps up work related to the professional values of journalistic principles.  Thus many of the reporters in the RUV News Reporters Society are also members of the Journalist Union and there is and has been for some time an ongoing discussion on the merger of the two organisations.

The Icelandic media companies have traditionally produced most of their content themselves. However, in television independent producers have been an important factor and increasingly so in recent years. In the public service contract that RUV makes with the Ministry of Education and Culture a clause dictates that RUV is obliged to buy material from and/or co-produce with independent producers. In practice the private TV stations have chosen a similar path in the production of much of their Icelandic content.  This has bee an important factor for keeping up the standards and the know how in the film industry in Iceland (See also 2.4 above).

The legal framework of Icelandic media can at present be found in five different pieces of legislation.   Firstly, it can be found in the articles of the Constitution dealing with freedom of speech and protection of privacy. Secondly, in the so-called Print Act  (57/1956). Thirdly, it can be found in the Broadcasting Act (53/2000) and in a special Act on RUV (6/2007). Fourthly, there is the Act on telecommunications (81/2003). Finally, there is the Act on Competition (44/2005). Clearly some other legislation, such as laws on libel and slander, also affect the operation of the media. 

It has been considered a drawback for media governance in Iceland that there is no comprehensive general media legislation that defines the framework and clarifies the working conditions of the media. Important areas of media operations, such as editorial independence, ownership concentration regulations, media grants, and general surveillance institutions are not addressed directly in any legislation.   This was recognised already in 2003 when the government at the time pushed through parliament a Media Act that mostly dealt with the concentration of ownership. The act was highly controversial and was said to be directed against a particular media company. In any case the president exercised his veto powers on the act in June 2004, which lead to the government withdrawing it. The matter was then put to a cross-political working committee that reached a consensus and published an extensive report with suggestions. In the 2009/2010 parliament session the minister of Education and Culture then proposed a bill to the Parliament, but the bill has still to be debated.  The main points of the proposed legislation include:  the introduction of European regulations and standards regarding audio and visual media into the Icelandic media environment; to create a unified single legal framework for all types of media; to harmonise rules on responsibility in different media; to introduce rules on ownership transparency; to introduce regulations on editorial independence and protection of sources; and to introduce ‘may carry / must carry rules’ and digital distribution systems.

Interestingly enough, the bill itself does not deal with two sensitive issues. On the one hand it is the question of ownership concentration, but the bill suggests that a cross-political committee should be formed to resolve this matter. On the other hand the bill does not deal with questions regarding economic support or incentives from the state within the media system. 

On 16 June 2010 the Icelandic Parliament unanimously approved a parliamentary declaration on a so-called “Icelandic Modern Media Initiative” which suggests that Iceland assumes a leading role in terms of press freedom in the world. 

The idea includes protection from "libel tourism" and other extrajudicial abuses, protection of Internet service providers, whistle-blower and source protections and an ultra-modern Freedom of Information Act. This declaration does not automatically have any binding commitments for the Icelandic authorities but nonetheless states the viewpoint of the parliament. If steps would be taken in this direction it would indeed be a change of course, as Icelandic courts have in the last decade tended to pass tougher sentences in libel cases against the media than before.

In Iceland there is no official accountability system supported or dictated by law or the authorities.  It is however possible to hold the media accountable for their editorial content through the courts in case of illegal conduct. A self regulation system is in place as the Journalist Union operates an Ethical Committee that rules on cases brought before it and determines whether or not the Ethical Code of the Journalist Union has been violated or not. The Committee is composed of journalists selected at the Union’s general meeting, a representative from Media Publishers and a representative from the Ethical Institute of the University of Iceland.  The penalty for violating the Ethical Code is that the medium in question is obliged to publish the verdict of the Ethical Committee and the verdict is also made public on the Union´s website and in its magazine.

The Broadcasting Act (53/200) defines a special National Broadcasting Board (Utvarpsrettarnefnd) that oversees the implementation of the Act and gives out licences for broadcasting. The Board also has the task of looking into complaints directed at broadcasting media and can revoke licenses in case of serious breaches with the law. Such complaints are extremely rare and it has never used its authority to revoke a licence

There are no restrictions on starting a newspaper or other printed media in Iceland, although the National Broadcasting Board (Utvarpsrettarnefnd) has to issue a license for an outlet to start a radio or television broadcast. The conditions for winning a licence are not very strict, but the party in question needs to demonstrate a financial and technical competence for broadcasting and explain the basics of the programming policy.

In Iceland journalism education and training is a relatively new phenomena. There is no tradition of Journalism Schools and no formal journalism education is demanded for those who work as journalists. In recent years university education has become a standard requirement for people entering the journalist profession.    Journalist education courses in Iceland might thus be said to fall into three categories: 1) University degree courses that are a regular part of the curriculum in two universities. At the University of Akureyri a  B.A. degree in Media Studies is offered, which has considerable emphasis on journalism. At the University of Iceland in Reykjavik an M.A. degree in journalism is offered.   2) Continuing education courses that are held intermittently, sponsored either by journalist associations or media companies.The most highly respected courses are run by the NJC in Aarhus and at Reykjavik University.  3) Courses in communications studies and communications technology, taught as options in upper secondary schools.

In the last decade the Icelandic media system has undergone a major transformation, the outcome of which is still not entirely clear. This change is the result of two different but interrelated trends. On the one hand it is the transformation from a politically dominated media system to a market driven system. However, the division between the market and politics is not always clear – as the financially strong players on the market are often political stakeholders.  The other trend is the technological innovation which can be labelled the digital revolution. The advent of Internet, digital TV and radio, and all sorts of social media have created a whole new gallery of media outlets that are all at once, new business opportunities for the entrepreneurs of the new media market, an explosion in the supply and amount of information for the public, and a window through which the old political communication system can renew itself. The attempts in recent years to introduce a general law on media governance and the heated debates on the matter reflect the fact that the media situation in Iceland is still in a flux.  If and when the present media bill goes through the parliament in the near future the situation might become somewhat clearer.  But whether or not the bill will go through or not, the most important question to be debated regarding Icelandic media is the financing of the media system as a whole. Until now it has been considered self evident that media corporations, other than RUV, should be regarded as any other businesses.  Following the economic crash in 2008 scepticism about such a model has increased, as the connection of important media to some of the major players in the collapse and the economically weak situation of all media today has undermined its credibility.  Increasingly suggestions are being made that some sort of public support is required to secure an independent media and high quality journalism.

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  • Friðriksson, G. (2000) Nýjustu fréttir! Saga fjölmiðlunar á Íslandi frá upphafi til vorra daga  Iðunn, Reykjavík
  • Guðmundsson, B. (2007) "Tilkoma nýs dagblaðs - breyttur veruleiki". In  : Gunnar Þór Jóhannesson, (ed.): Rannsóknir í félagsvísindum VIII,   Félagsvísindadeild Háskóla Íslands (University of Iceland)
  • Gudmundsson, B. (2007) ed.  Íslenskir Blaðamenn  Blaðamannafélagið, Reykjavík
  • Gudmundsson, B.  (2009) “The Icelandic Journalism Education Landscape”.  In European Journalism Education (ed) Georgios Terzis,  UK  Intellect, Bristol/ US Intellect, The University of Chicago Press
  • Gudmundsson, B. (2010) “Flokksblod nutimans – lifid eftir dauda flokksblada”. Talk at a Social Science conference at the University at Bifröst, Iceland 8.-9. May
  • Icelandic Modern Media Initiative (No date) official website. (consulted 1st of July 2010)
  • Icelandic Statistical Bureau: “Use of ICT and the Internet by households and individuals in Iceland 2006” (Consulted 19th of June 2010)
  • Rannsoknarnefnd Althingis (2010) “Addragandi og orsakir falls islensku bankanna 2008 og tengdis atburdir”, Reykjavik

Birgir Gudmundsson,
Associate professor University of Akureyri,
head of department of Social Science

Office A213
University of Akureyri,
 Solborg, Nordurslod
600 Akureyri, Iceland
E – mail: birgirg@unak.is
Tel : + 354 460 8658