Iceland in crisis over controversial media law

Iceland was embroiled in a political crisis on Monday as the country’s president appeared poised to veto a media law proposed by the government, a first in the Icelandic republic’s 60-year history.

The draft law, which is being angrily debated in Parliament, calls for the break-up of media groups if they concentrate too much power over media in their hands.

Iceland’s opposition parties have accused Prime Minister David Oddsson of targeting a single company, the Baugur group, because of a personal grudge he holds against the diversified company’s owners.

According to sources close to President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, quoted by Icelandic daily DV, he is “seriously considering” using his veto power if, as is expected, Oddsson wins backing for his draft law in the Althing, the world’s oldest Parliament.

Grimsson on Friday even cancelled a trip to Copenhagen, where he was to attend the Danish royal wedding of Crown Prince Frederik and Australian Mary Donaldson, because he wanted to be present in case of a decisive vote.

“Because of uncertainty over when the Althing concludes a debate of important issues, the president could not leave the country,” a statement said.

The Icelandic president is elected by popular vote, but his role is largely ceremonial.

If he indeed refuses to sign the draft into law, Iceland may even face a constitutional crisis, as some lawyers claim the country’s Constitution does not grant the figurehead president real veto powers.

Justice Minister Bjoern Bjarnason has said any veto would be “an attack on the parliamentarian foundations of the republic”.

Legal experts have said that applying a law that had not been signed by the president would be unconstitutional, leaving as the most likely outcome a popular referendum on the issue.

But weekend media reports said the Progressive Party, in coalition government with Oddsson’s conservative Independence Party, may prefer a break-up of the government rather than drive Iceland further towards a constitutional crisis.

Oddsson meanwhile poured oil in the flames by stating that Grimsson was pursuing a personal agenda by defending Baugur, which has retailing and real estate interests, and controls Northern Lights, which owns newspapers Frettabladid and DV, several radio stations and the television station Channel 2.

Northern Lights publications are the president’s strongest supporters among the media, Oddsson said, also pointing out that the president’s daughter is employed by the Baugur group.

Oddsson also called on Grimsson to apologise to the Danish government for missing last week’s royal wedding.—Sapa-AFP

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