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The Icelandic parliament has voted unanimously to create what are intended to be the strongest media freedom laws in the world. And Iceland intends these measures to have international impact, by creating a safe haven for publishers worldwide — and their servers.
The proposal, known as the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative, requires changes to Icelandic law to strengthen journalistic source protection, freedom of speech, and government transparency. “The Prime Minister voted for it, and the Minister of Finance, and everybody present,” says Icelandic Member of Parliament Birgitta Jónsdóttir, who has been the proposal’s chief sponsor. Her point is that Iceland is serious about this. The country is in the mood for openness after a small group of bankers saddled it with crippling debt, and the proposal ties neatly into the country’s strategy to be prime server real-estate.
Iceland has passed a sweeping 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 at 4am yesterday 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."
Wikileaks has been involved in the drafting of the package of laws alongside Ms Jonsdottir from the beginning of the process more than a year ago. Its founder, Julian Assange, worked from Iceland on the organisation's release of the incendiary video of an apparently unprovoked American helicopter attack in Iraq that left eighteen people dead, including two journalists.
Mr Assange did not respond to requests for comment via email yesterday. But in February, he wrote: "All over the world, the freedom to write about powerful groups is being smothered. Iceland could be the antidote to secrecy havens ... it may become an island where openness is protected – a journalism haven."
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."
At 4 a.m. on Thursday, Iceland’s Parliament, the Althing, voted unanimously in favor of a package of legislation aimed at making the country a haven for freedom of expression by offering legal protection to whistle-blower Web sites like WikiLeaks, which helped to craft the proposal.
As the Web site Ice News reports, “One of the inspirations for the proposal was the dramatic August 2009 gagging of of Iceland’s national broadcaster, RUV by Iceland’s then largest bank, Kaupthing.”
One of the sponsors of the proposal in the Althing, Birgitta Jonsdottir, told my colleague Noam Cohen in February that Iceland hoped to become “the inverse of a tax haven,” by offering journalists and publishers some of the most aggressive protections for free speech and investigative journalism in the world. “They are trying to make everything opaque,” she said. “We are trying to make it transparent.”
As Mr. Cohen explained in an article on the package of laws that passed on Thursday:
The proposal, the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative, combines in a single piece of legislation provisions from around the world: whistle-blower laws and rules about Internet providers from the United States; source protection laws from Belgium; freedom of information laws from Estonia and Scotland, among others; and New York State’s law to counteract “libel tourism,” the practice of suing in courts, like Britain’s, where journalists have the hardest time prevailing. [...]
The plan to make Iceland a world leader in journalism protection took shape in December with the assistance of two leaders of the whistle-blower Web site WikiLeaks.org, Julian Assange and Daniel Schmitt, whose publish-nearly-anything ideology has given them personal experience with news media laws around the globe.
On Tuesday, Philip Shenon of The Daily Beast reported that Mr. Assange had told supporters that the site would soon release another video of an American military strike that killed civilians:
After several days underground, the founder of the secretive Web site WikiLeaks has gone public to disclose that he is preparing to release a classified Pentagon video of a U.S. airstrike in Afghanistan last year that left as many as 140 civilians dead, most of them children and teenagers.
In an e-mail message obtained by The Daily Beast that was sent to WikiLeaks supporters in the United States Tuesday, Julian Assange, the Web site’s Australian-born founder, also defends a 22-year-old Army intelligence specialist who is now under arrest in Kuwait on charges that he leaked classified Pentagon combat videos, as well as 260,000 State Department cables, to WikiLeaks.
however - it was reported in their blog section rather than in the news section. this is the current standard of journalism and reporting of important stories. the world needs iceland now more than ever!