Nieman Foundation at Harvard
HOME
          
LATEST STORY
The New York Times’ new Slack 2016 election bot sends readers’ questions straight to the newsroom
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
June 16, 2010, 11:51 a.m.

What will Iceland’s new media laws mean for journalists?

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.

But although the legislative package sounds very encouraging from a freedom of expression point of view, it’s not clear what the practical benefits will be to organizations outside Iceland. In his analysis of the proposal, Arthur Bright of the Citizen Media Law Project has noted that, in one major test case of cross-border online libel law, “publication” was deemed to occur at the point of download — meaning that serving a controversial page from Iceland won’t keep you from getting sued in other countries. But if nothing else, it would probably prevent your servers from being forcibly shut down.

There might be other benefits too. Wikileaks says that it routes all submissions through Sweden, where investigations into the identity of an anonymous source are illegal. Wikileaks was heavily involved in drafting and promoting the Icelandic package, and whatever your opinion of their current controversies, they’ve proven remarkably immune to legal prosecution in their short history. Conceivably, other journalism organizations could gain some measure of legal protection for anonymous sources if all communications were routed through Iceland.

All of which is to say that issues of press censorship have long since passed the point of globalization. When an aggrieved party in country A can sue a publisher in country B through the courts of country C (as in these examples), press freedom must be understood — and fought for — at an international level.

“It has not only an impact here, but in changing the dialog in Europe,” Birgitta Jónsdóttir told me.

But it will be some time before the full repercussions of Iceland’s move are felt. For a start, the new laws are not yet written. Icelandic lawyer Elfa Ýir of the Ministry of Culture is leading the drafting effort, and expects to have the help of volunteer legal experts and law students. (“Iceland is still suffering from the financial meltdown,” says Birgitta Jónsdóttir.) The complex legislative changes will be passed in several parts, possibly beginning late this year.

“It should be done in about a year,” Birgitta Jónsdóttir said. “I’ll be following this very closely.”

And then it may be further years before we understand, from case law, exactly what an “offshore freedom of expression haven” means to journalists worldwide. Nonetheless, I hope to get a discussion started among the high-powered media law types at the Annenberg-Oxford Summer Institute next month, and we’ll see if we can get a more precise understanding of the practical consequences of Iceland’s move — and how journalists might use it to protect their work. If you have some insight, do drop the Lab a line.

Photo of Iceland by Trey Ratcliff used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     June 16, 2010, 11:51 a.m.
SHARE THIS STORY
   
Show comments  
Show tags
 
Join the 15,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
The New York Times’ new Slack 2016 election bot sends readers’ questions straight to the newsroom
“Instead of asking you to come to us and be part of this massive room of people shouting over each other, you can bring us to you, and have us be, essentially, one more person in your conversation.”
The Conversation expands across the U.S., freshly funded by universities and foundations
The news site that uses academics as reporters and journalists as editors now boasts 19 paying member universities and is opening up posts in Atlanta (and maybe in the Bay Area).
A Boston public radio station is redesigning its site to make audio “a first-class citizen online”
But: “I’ve tried to be really disciplined about not calling this process just a redesign,” WBUR’s executive editor for digital Tiffany Campbell said. “We’ve built a brand new platform.”
What to read next
0
tweets
For McClatchy’s new head of news strategies, analytics and social traffic bolster good journalism
“It’s a beautiful thing when the powerful, public service, noble interests of journalism actually align with your business model.”
0The Information is offering members a perk: an exclusive trip to “meet the right people” in China
The $399-a-year site covering the tech industry expects subscribers to pay their own way, but promises access to “people only the most well-known execs typically meet.”
0From Nieman Reports: How news outlets are harnessing the power of video games for journalism
As digital technology allows more and more of our lives as consumers to be framed as play, scoring points or competing with others, companies of all kinds have been incorporating games into their strategies.
These stories are our most popular on Twitter over the past 30 days.
See all our most recent pieces ➚
Fuego is our heat-seeking Twitter bot, tracking the links the future-of-journalism crowd is talking about most on Twitter.
Here are a few of the top links Fuego’s currently watching.   Get the full Fuego ➚
Encyclo is our encyclopedia of the future of news, chronicling the key players in journalism’s evolution.
Here are a few of the entries you’ll find in Encyclo.   Get the full Encyclo ➚
FactCheck.org
PubliCola
Wired
Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism
Quora
Mother Jones
Tucson Citizen
Press+
Alaska Dispatch
Slate
GateHouse Media
Mashable