The Mass Media
Mass communication plays an increasingly important role in contemporary Icelandic society. It is supposed to ensure universal access to all kinds of information and disseminate it in different ways. There have been enormous changes in the area of mass communication during the twentieth-century. It has increased in volume, with mass media, telecommunication, and computer technology performing increasingly important roles.
The Icelandic National Broadcasting Service (Ríkisútvarp) was established in 1930. It quickly reached out to most of the districts in the country and radios multiplied rapidly. To begin with, there were only four to six hours of broadcast time per twenty-four hour cycle. The Broadcasting Service is operated by the Icelandic government and, as such, entails compulsory subscription. In an era of private enterprise, this way of operating has met with some criticism. On the other hand, defenders of the National Broadcaster believe that it performs an important service for Icelanders. It is the radio for all the people; broadcasts by various other radio stations only reach a limited part of the country. Amongst other things, this is important in providing information, such as warnings of natural disasters. The advocates for the National Broadcaster also believe that its cultural value is very important.
Evening Entertainment and Work
One may say that in many ways the National Broadcaster has taken over the role of providing evening entertainment. For centuries, people in rural societies passed time by reading, composing poetry, and telling stories out loud when the time came for evening entertainment. As a matter of fact, the evening entertainment, kvöldvakan, was a time of activity, and furthermore a time for the people of the household to be together. Books were read out for the household, ballad songs were recited from collections or memory, and people talked about different matters which came up. At the end of kvöldvakan was húslestur, a sacred reading followed by a pray and a hymn.
The National Broadcaster is still formed in a way which reflects this structure. As well as news and various programs, story series are read out, poems are recited, morning and evening prayers are read, Hallgrímur Pétursson’s Passíusálmar are read during the fast and so on, much in the way of the old evening entertainments and the húslestur. In the first years of radio, people even gathered around the radio and sat by it, listening to the announcer just as they would during the evening entertainment of old.
Television and Icelandic Culture
Television broadcasts did not begin until 1966. The broadcast was limited to evenings and one night per week, Thursday night, was television free. With the arrival of television, a considerable decline in people’s old habit of calling in on one another began. In its place, the family passes time in front of the television in the evenings and entertains itself with the content which comes from all over the world. Many feel that the world is becoming a worse place and think that Icelandic language and culture are threatened by the wave of foreign material and fashions flooding people in the era of globalization. Television makes a considerable contribution to this. Others point out that, in spite of this, the Icelandic language has never been stronger than it is now. More people talk Icelandic today than ever before and many foreigners are now undertaking studies in Icelandic both in Iceland and at universities abroad.
In 1986, the first privately run television station commenced operations, and since then there has been a growth in media outlets, including many privately run stations. Also, almost everyone has an access to the internet in Iceland.
There a three large daily newspapers published in Reykjavík (given the size of the population, they are considered large papers). One of them, Morgunblaðið, has a print run of ca. 40,000 copies and is about 70 pages in size. Fréttablaðið, has a print run of ca. 90.000, it is free of charge and delivered to every home in the Capital Area. The third, DV, is an afternoon paper.
But people can also read the news and look for information of all kinds by accessing a news provider on the internet, the most popular news websites are: www.mbl.is, www.visir.is, www ruv.is.