Iceland Police Probe Journalists for Reporting on Harassment by Fishing Company
Transparency International expressed concern over reports that Iceland’s police was investigating journalists who reported on the attempts of a number of employees of a seafood company to smear reporters who covered a corruption scandal the company was involved in.
Samherji was at the center of an international scandal that erupted in 2019 when a whistleblower revealed that the company had paid millions of dollars to top officials in Namibia to acquire the country’s fishing quota.
In Iceland, the Minister of Fisheries and a former chairman of Samherji, Kristian Thor Juliusson, were called to resign because of their possible involvement in the scandal. Some employees of the fishing company then launched public attacks against the reporters, trying to discredit them.
In May 2021, reporters from two media outlets - Kjarninn and Stundin - “published a report on Samherji’s ‘guerrilla division,’ a group of people who dreamed of „stabbing, twisting and sprinkling salt on the wound“ of those who discuss Samherji’s issues in Namibia,” Transparency International said.
“Companies aware of the public interest do not need to own and finance „guerrilla groups“ against critics and journalists writing in the public interest,” the watchdog added.
Samhejri apologized for the harsh reactions of its employees but last week, the chief of the island’s Northeast Police seeked to interrogate at least four journalists who reported on Samherji’s ‘guerilla division’ based on leaked communication between the members of the group.
According to local media, he is trying to find out how the reporters obtained the emails. They are being investigated for alleged violations of privacy and have the legal status of defendants in the case.
This attempt “sends a dangerous message to the Icelandic community,” and represents “a severe attack on press freedom in Iceland,” the TI statement said.
“The message is clear; reporting on the shady side of Iceland’s fishery industry in the public good will be viewed as a criminal offense by police authorities,” it said.
The watchdog’s Corruption Perception Index showed Iceland’s performance dropped down for 4 points since 2019.