Journalists at newspaper DV Jóhann Páll Jóhannsson and Jón Bjarki Magnússon said in a press release over the weekend that the paper’s owners had insisted on settling the case brought against them by Þórey Vilhjálmsdóttir, who used to be a political assistant to Hanna Birna Kristjánsdóttir, who formally resigned as minister of the interior last week, ruv.is reports.
DV paid Þórey an ISK 330,000 (USD 2,600, EUR 2,150) settlement fee last week. Þórey has donated the amount to Stígamót (Education and Counseling Center for Survivors of Sexual Abuse and Violence).
Þórey sued the pair for libelous comments and crass insinuations towards her in connection with the so-called leak affair. She had been seeking the maximum possible libel penalty for the journalists, two years in prison, as well as damages and the payment of legal fees. In a statement on Friday, Þórey said that she welcomed the settlement and was happy that the matter did not have to go to court.
DV’s coverage on June 20 wrongly stated that Þórey had ‘leaked’ confidential information about an asylum seeker to the media and that she was ‘employee B’ in Reykjavík District Court’s verdict. Þórey reasoned that the journalists had specifically worked towards painting a picture of her as someone guilty of a punishable act and serious violation in her work, which damaged her reputation and caused her and her family great concern. The paper issued an apology for wrongly naming Þórey on the same day the article was published.
Þórey said in a statement in October that she wanted to clear her reputation and hoped that the lawsuit would help to improve the future work methods of journalists at DV.
Jóhann and Jón said in their statement that the court settlement would allow them to “continue to write about the powers that lie to the public and abuse vulnerable people.”
They also stated that the article published on June 20 was the product of a month’s work for which they spoke to sources at the Ministry of the Interior, Morgunblaðið, 365 Media and the police. They say that Þórey declined to speak with them despite being the ministry’s information officer. She was also given the opportunity to submit comments on the article, which she chose not to do, the statement reads.
Jóhann and Jón further state that while they are ashamed of the mistakes they made regarding Þórey, overall they are proud of their role in exposing abuse of power and human rights violations.
On Thursday it was announced that Ólöf Nordal would replace Hanna Birna Kristjánsdóttir as minister of the interior.
Hanna Birna decided to step down last month after her political assistant Gísli Freyr Valdórsson confessed to having been behind the leak of confidential information about an asylum seeker. Gísli was given an eight month suspended prison sentence.
Reporters Without Borders cited Þórey’s case against the journalists, as well as cuts to national broadcaster RÚV, which the ruling coalition has accused of bias, as major threats to press freedom in Iceland in a statement last month.