Reporting Safe Haven in Iceland

Haven from libel tourism with protection for sources

19th February

Free Speech Haven...

Iceland considers proposals to become the world's first free speech haven

Some countries are tax havens. Set up a company there, or transfer your money, and pay less in taxes. Switzerland is renowned for being a good place to open a bank account if you want your money to be ultra-safe and ultra-secret. Now, if some Icelandic MPs have their way, Iceland might become the world's first (and only) haven for journalists and a preserve for freedom of speech.

A proposal is being put forward in Iceland's parliament that will resemble, but may not be identical in every respect, to the proposal, put up by the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative Proposal :

Proposal for a parliamentary resolution for Iceland to strongly position itself legally with regard to the protection of freedoms of expression and information. Parliament resolves to task the government with finding ways to strengthen freedoms of expression and information freedom in Iceland, as well as providing strong protections for sources and whistleblowers.

In this work, the international team of experts that assisted in the creation of this proposal should be utilized.

To this end,

the legal environment should be explored such that the goals can be defined and changes to law or new law proposals can be prepared.

the legal environments of other countries should be considered, with the view to assemble the best laws to make Iceland leading in freedoms of expression and information.

the first Icelandic international prize should be established, The Icelandic Freedom of Expression Award.

With the goal of improving democracy, as firm grounding will be made for publishing, whilst improving Iceland's standing in the international community.

The legislative initiative outlined here is intended to make Iceland an attractive environment for the registration and operation of international press organizations, new media start-ups, human rights groups and internet data centers. It promises to strengthen our democracy through the power of transparency and to promote the nation's international standing and economy. It also proposes to draw attention to these changes through the creation of Iceland's first internationally visible prize: the Icelandic Prize for Freedom of Expression.

Just as countries, like Canada and the UK, are in the midst of what can only be called a crisis with respect to freedom of expression, it is good to hear that there is a chance -- a good chance -- that freedom of speech and expression will find a refuge, if necessary, in Iceland.


19th June

Update: Safe Haven...

Protection of anonymous sources and investigative journalism

Iceland has passed a reform of its media laws that supporters say will make the country an international haven for investigative journalism.

The new package of legislation was passed unanimously in one of the final sessions of the Icelandic parliament, the Althingi, before its summer break.

Created with the involvement of the whistleblowing website Wikileaks, it increases protection for anonymous sources, creates new protections from so-called libel tourism and makes it much harder to censor stories before they are published.

It will be the strongest law of its kind anywhere, said Birgitta Jonsdottir, MP for The Movement party and member of the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative, which first made the proposals. We're taking the best laws from around the world and putting them into one comprehensive package that will deal with the fact that information doesn't have borders any more.

Because the package includes provisions that will stop the enforcement of overseas judgements that violate Icelandic laws, foreign news organisations are said to have expressed an interest in moving the publication of their investigative journalism to Iceland. According to Ms Jonsdottir, Germany's Der Spiegel and America's ABC News have discussed the possibility.

More immediately, it is hoped that the changes will rebuild the Icelandic public's belief in the press. Trust in the media was very high before the crash, but then it sank, said Hoskuldur Kari Schram, a reporter with Stod 2 television in Reykjavik: Maybe this will be a step in the right direction.


29th April

Update: Not So Safe Haven...

Iceland creates government controlled committee to censor the internet

A new media control law has been accepted by the Icelandic parliament.

The new law seeks to protect children from obscene content and to ensure freedom of speech.

To uphold its goals a new media committee will be created to mediate between the media, the public and government.

But the measure is still proving controversial. It is argued, among other things, that the Iceland is consistently ranked near the top in global press freedom rankings and that the creation of a government-controlled committee to protect and enforce press freedom is a contradiction in terms which will end up doing the exact opposite.

The fact that the national broadcaster, RUV, is not controlled by the new law is also causing debate. This is the first media law in Iceland to cover the press and broadcast media together.

2,000 people have signed a petition urging the president to veto the law and thereby send it to a public referendum.


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