Inspired by Wikileaks, Iceland Aims to Become Reporter Haven

Parliament approves laws that may be the freest in the world

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Iceland has approved a package of laws designed to make the country an international haven for reporters. The laws, which were both inspired and assisted by Wikileaks, offer sweeping speech protections for individuals and groups. The laws protect the anonymity of anonymous sources, empower whistle-blowers, and seek to expand the freedom of information, as well as other provisions.

  • Global Free Speech Haven  The New York Times' Noam Cohen explained when the laws were introduced that Iceland wants to "become a haven for journalists and publishers by offering some of the most aggressive protections for free speech and investigative journalism in the world. ... much the way businesses relocate to countries like the Cayman Islands or Switzerland to take advantage of legal protections and shield laws for bank accounts, publications would relocate to Iceland — or at least relocate their computer servers that publish their Web sites — in order to get the benefits, and gain access to Iceland’s plentiful energy resources."
  • Could Media Companies Relocate to Iceland?  The U.K. Independent's Archie Bland writes, "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 [Icelandic legislator] Ms Jonsdottir, Germany's Der Spiegel and America's ABC News have discussed the possibility."
  • What It Won't Protect  Niemann Journalism Lab's Jonathan Stray notes, "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."
  • Other Countries Must Reform  TechDirt's Mike Masnick writes, "While it's a great step forward for those who believe in protecting free expression, some have pointed out that that it probably won't have that much of an actual impact, because of the way most countries interpret jurisdictional issues. That is, outside of Iceland, those press freedoms may be effectively meaningless. I hope that's not actually true, but given the way some recent rulings have gone, I wouldn't be surprised. Still, from the standpoint of catalyzing important discussions about free expression and protection of journalistic activities, hopefully it gets other countries thinking about ways to fix their laws, rather than relying on outdated regulations."
  • Iceland's Experience With Secrecy  Salon's Glenn Greenwald explains a key motivation behind the laws' passage. "Iceland enacted that law because the extreme secrecy among their political/financial elite is what enabled their economic collapse."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.