Iceland | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press



Freedom of the Press 2015

2015 Scores

Press Status


Press Freedom Score
(0 = best, 100 = worst)


Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)


Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)


Legal Environment

Freedom of expression is protected under Article 73 of the constitution, although there are limitations to this freedom, including restrictions on verbal assaults based on race, religion, nationality, and sexual orientation. A media law passed in 2011 contains provisions for the editorial independence of outlets from owners and for the protection of sources. The law generally prohibits journalists from revealing the identity of sources who have requested anonymity, with some exceptions. Legal protections for freedom of the press are generally respected in practice.

Journalists have often criticized the country’s libel legislation as an avenue to silence the press. The 2011 law afforded some improvements by establishing that journalists can no longer be held responsible for potentially libelous quotes from their sources. Defamation and insult nevertheless remain criminal offenses subject to fines or a prison sentence of up to one year; journalistic invasion of privacy is also a crime. In August 2014, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the Icelandic Supreme Court had violated a journalist’s rights in 2007 by convicting her of defamation based on quotes she had published from a source. In November, an Interior Ministry official pressed charges of defamation and insult against two journalists who, in an article for the newspaper DV, had erroneously cited her as responsible for leaking internal ministry information about an ongoing asylum case. The plaintiff requested damages as well as the imprisonment of the journalists. DV had issued a correction and an apology within a day of the article’s publication.

Iceland’s Information Act, passed in 2013 to strengthen existing legislation on transparency and freedom of information, has been criticized for unsatisfactory provisions for public access to information. The year 2014 saw little progress by the International Modern Media Institute (IMMI), which spearheads the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative—a parliamentary resolution, inspired by both the financial crisis and the antisecrecy organization WikiLeaks, that aims to improve the media environment in Iceland by strengthening protections for sources, whistleblowers, and freedoms of expression and information at large. Although stronger protections for sources have already been codified, most of IMMI’s proposed changes are pending or incomplete.


Political Environment

Private outlets are sometimes subject to editorial pressure from their owners, and politically motivated dismissals of journalists have been reported in the past. The newspaper DV, historically one of the country’s main outlets for investigative reporting and criticism of the government, was the center of a politicized struggle for control in 2014. In November, local outlets reported that the media company Vefpressan had bought the majority of shares in DV. Vefpressan’s majority shareholder is a former Reykjavik city councilor with ties to the Progressive Party. In December, the DV editor in chief was dismissed along with several journalists—the second major change in editorial leadership during the year. Critics decried the purchase as politically motivated.

The Icelandic National Broadcasting Service (RÚV), a state-owned company, has been the target of hostile rhetoric from multiple members of the government, who have publicly accused the outlet of lacking impartiality and favoring the opposition. In recent years, media workers and watchdogs have voiced concerns about undue government pressure on editorial content at RÚV. Journalists, both at RÚV and private outlets, have also complained of an environment that encourages self-censorship. Access to the internet is not restricted by the government.

All media outlets are subject to the oversight of a five-member media board; two of the members are appointed by the Supreme Court, one by representatives of universities, one by the Union of Icelandic Journalists, and one by the government. Media outlets must regularly report their ownership and editorial policy to the board. Critics of the board claim that it has excessive latitude, including the right to levy fines for various violations.

There were no reports of physical attacks on journalists in 2014.


Economic Environment

The country’s print sector is diverse and includes both independent and party-affiliated newspapers, although the financial crash of 2008 has led to cutbacks in both broadcast and print media. RÚV runs Iceland’s largest television station and two major radio stations, funded by license fees and advertising revenue. The state-owned television station accounts for the majority of viewership, while the two state-owned radio stations together enjoy approximately half of the radio sector’s audience share. There are also several private radio and television stations. Private media ownership is concentrated among a group of companies and individuals with commercial or political ties to the ruling coalition. The state controls the funding and budget of RÚV, and significant budget cuts in recent years have led to the dismissal of dozens of journalists and strained the ability of the broadcaster to produce programming.

Approximately 98 percent of Iceland’s population accessed the internet in 2014. The two daily newspapers and RÚV maintain the country’s most popular news websites. Blogs are a major source of information, and the use of social-networking websites is widespread.