Helgi Seljan found guilty of a serious ethical violation for writing about Samherji

The Icelandic National Broadcasting Service (RÚV) ethics committee has found journalist Helgi Seljand guilty of violating RÚV's Code of Ethics with his written comments about Samherji. The committee decided that several of his remarks, which contained a "clear and personal stance" on Samherji, constitute a "serious violation" of the Code. This is the conclusion of the committee in a ruling announced today.

Samherji filed a complaint with the ethics committee on August 31st of last year regarding various comments made by Helgi Seljan and ten other RÚV employees. Samherji believed that the employees had violated a provision in the RÚV Code of Ethics that prohibits employees who cover news and programming from taking a public stand on contentious or political issues on social media. This provision is intended, among other things, to prevent conflicts of interest and ensure the neutrality of journalists and the RÚV newsroom.

The ethics committee concludes in its ruling that with various comments about Samherji on Facebook and Twitter, over a period of almost a year, Helgi Seljan "became biased" and "went further" than his scope as a journalist allows. The ruling states: "Therefore, the ethics committee is of the opinion that the above remarks contain a clear and personal stance about the applicant that paragraph 4 of article 3 of the Code is intended to cover, and therefore constitutes a violation of the article."

The ethics committee concludes that Helgi Seljan's violation is "serious" on the scale of the committee's rules of procedure. "These are repeated incidents over a long period of time. In that light, the ethics committee believes that Helgi's violation is serious," the ruling states.

Concerning other RÚV employees, the ethics committee ignores the Code of Ethics's clear-cut provision on the prohibition of taking a stance on a contentious matter, even if the comments have been ambiguous and may have jeopardized neutrality. In fact, the ethics committee nullifies the provision unless the disputed statement has gone far beyond all ethical boundaries, as was the case with Helgi Seljan.

In resolving the matter, RÚV was the judge in its own case because two of the three members of the ethics committee are appointed by RÚV. The Director General of RÚV appoints the chairman, and the Employees' Association of RÚV appoints one member. One can guess how objective the conclusion of such a committee may be. Nevertheless, the committee comes to an unequivocal conclusion about Helgi Seljan's "serious violation".

Helgi Seljan has repeatedly used reprehensible and dishonest practices while covering Samherji on RÚV over the past decade. The journalist has altered documents, taken information out of context and arranged news coverage at his discretion. In light of RÚV's ethics committee's ruling today, Samherji will demand that he not further cover the company on RÚV's mediums and not work on such coverage in collaboration with others. Samherji will also request that the journalist is reprimanded for breach of duty.

The ruling of RÚV's ethics committee can be accessed here (Icelandic)