Alda recently submitted commentary to Alþingi, Iceland’s parliament, on a bill that would further safeguard free speech of the media which the association currently finds lacking.
The bill curtails the powers of district commissioners (sýslumenn) in their ability to impose restrictive injunctions on media companies. As things stand today district commissioners can impose arbitrary injunctions without having to go to court if an interested body – a person or a company – submits a request for injunction that fulfils the requirements for such an injunction. The requirements are mostly related to formalities in terms of format and language. The injunction then goes to court, where it can be confirmed or relieved, but the injunction takes immediate effect. The bill alters this process so that all such requests will instead have to go to court immediately, and commissioners cannot impose such injunctions any longer.
The bill was proposed after a district commissioner imposed an injunction on a particular media company, Stundin, which was reporting on dubious business involvement of the then Prime Minister of Iceland, involvements that occurred before and around the crash of 2008 and before he became Prime Minister. At the time, when these involvements were taking place, he was a member of Parliament in Iceland and a businessman. He is currently Minister for Finance of Iceland. The injunction was imposed just before the parliamentary election was held in October 2017, and a court-case to lift the injunction is still ongoing. Meanwhile, the injunction is still in place.
The documents which Stundin based their reporting on came from one of the bankrupt banks, Glitnir. It was this company that submitted the request for injunction to the district commissioner for Reykjavík, and not the politician these documents pertained to. The injunction was granted without any observable consideration, and certainly not by any court. The commissioner and his staff simply arrived uninvited to the office of Stundin and imposed it.
Alda had previously released a statement, in October 2017, condemning the injunction on the grounds that the reporting by Stundin was simply aiming to inform the public about actions of a politician in the highest office in the land. Further, in Iceland, throughout the last hundred years or so, business and politics have frequently been mixed resulting in harmful effects on the public; rightfully causing people to doubt the integrity of decisions made by public officials. The public has a due right to know about any business involvement of the people in charge so that they can evaluate their trustworthiness and their integrity as politicians.
The commentary submitted to Alþingi stated that Alda did not consider the ability of commissioners to impose injunctions arbitrarily to be desirable in a democracy as the media has a duty to report on politicians, companies, and other parties to strengthen democracy and enlighten the public.
The bill has still not been passed and is currently being discussed in a committee.