Iceland journalists face prison sentence over error

Iceland journalists face prison sentence over error

Iceland journalists face prison sentence over errorTwo Icelandic journalists are facing jail time after mistakenly naming an interior ministry official as being part of a police investigation.

The reporters, Johann Pall Johannsson and Jon Bjarki Magnusson, stated in June that a political assistant to the ministry, Dorey Viljalmsdottir, was government leaker “employee B”. After discovering that they were wrong on the same day the story went out, the journalists’ newspaper, DV, published a correction and issued an apology to Viljalmsdottir.

However, the political assistant decided to press defamation charges, while her lawyers have confirmed they are pushing for the maximum punishment of one year in jail in addition to damages and legal costs.

The International Press Institute (IPI), an Austria-based press freedom watchdog, has described the legal claims as “disproportionate”. IPI press freedom official Scott Griffen said that the fact a public official is pushing for imprisonment, or any punitive remedy, for what seems to be an honest mistake in what was a serious investigation shows no respect for the media in regards to its role of being a critical watchdog.

Griffen went on to say that the case goes to show that if criminal libel laws remain in place, there is a continued risk they will be abused and have a “chilling effect” on the media community as a whole. He added that Iceland, which has gained a reputation as a “strong defender of freedom of expression and information”, would be advised to carry out reforms to its libel laws so they are in accordance with international standards.