Free speech campaigners were cheered by plans put before Iceland's parliament last week to reinvent the island nation as a “journalism haven” for those fleeing stringent libel laws elsewhere.
But news of the development overlooked one rather depressing local factor — the widespread collapse of trust in much of Iceland's national media.
Many regard the country's main newspapers as mouthpieces for the partisan political interests that failed to prevent last year's economic collapse.
A particular focus of contempt is Morgunbladid, the oldest established daily. Since last year, its editor-in-chief has been David Oddsson, Iceland's Prime Minister during 13 years of light-touch regulation and privatisation, and the man later in charge of the Central Bank when the collapse finally occurred.
Mr. Oddsson's arrival coincided with mass lay-offs of experienced journalists, while critics accused him of using the paper to rewrite history after quotation marks appeared around the word “collapse.” Morgunbladid has also been a fervent opponent of the deal for the repayment of money owed to Britain and Holland from the collapse of the Icesave online bank.
Investigative journalism and criticism of the establishment aren't dead yet, though. Away from the big two national dailies, some of the most impressive recent scoops have been down to DV, the nearest thing Iceland has to a downmarket tabloid.
A major upsurge in blogging has also occurred although perhaps this isn't surprising given the role social networking sites played in last year's “saucepan revolution.” Blogs range from the English language Icelandweatherreport.com to one written by Iceland's best-known political commentator, Egill Helgason, famed for his lack of deference.
Indeed, he provided a reminder of the power of the media to stir things up when, on his influential weekly talk show, he asked the sleaze-busting French magistrate Eva Joly if she would be willing to “help” Iceland. Just days later, the government followed up by bringing Joly on board as an adviser to an official investigation into Iceland's discredited financial oligarchs. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010