Reporters Without Borders

New legislation to provide exemplary protection for freedom of information

New legislation to provide exemplary protection for freedom of information

Published on Friday 18 June 2010. Updated on Monday 21 June 2010.
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Iceland’s parliament, the Alpinghi, has unanimously approved a resolution known as the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative (IMMI) that calls on the government to draft legislation in line with its recommendations for the protection of media, journalists and bloggers.

Reporters Without Borders hails this ambitious and positive initiative, adopted on 15 June, and calls on the government to do its utmost to respect the parliament’s will when it drafts the law.

“This proposal is on the right track,” Reporters Without Borders said. “It regards freedom of expression as a fundamental right and would create optimal conditions for investigative journalism. Even if the precise impact of this proposed law remains to be seen, especially as regard journalists’ legal protection, Iceland has established itself as a pioneer.”

The press freedom organisation added: “We hope this will serve as an example to other governments. It is certainly a promising departure from the general tendency, especially in democratic countries, for press freedom to be eroded and for harassment of journalists and their sources to increase.”

Assembling elements from the best legislation in the world, Iceland wants to become a global safe haven for journalists and new media that are being threatened or harassed and want to take advantage of the best protection available anywhere.

The transparency and independence of news and information are the initiative’s keywords. The declared aims are “to strengthen freedom of expression around world and in Iceland, as well as providing strong protections for sources and whistleblowers” (see the IMMI website). It also aims to secure communications and protect journalists and bloggers from unwarranted defamation suits both in Iceland and abroad.

Iceland wants to be seen as the ideal place for online media and data storage banks to locate their servers in order to shield themselves from the threats of censorship, filtering and closure, and to provide the best protection for the personal data of their users.

The initiative came about partly in response to a press issue that had a lot of impact in Iceland. In August 2009, the RUV television station was prevented at the last moment from broadcasting a story about Kaupthing Bank, which was immersed in a financial crisis.

The story was based on information from Wikileaks, which specialises in getting confidential information from whistleblowers in return for guarantees of anonymity, and which had already published extracts from the bank’s accounts. An injunction obtained by Kaupthing Bank prevented RUV from broadcasting the item, but the station told its viewers what had happened.

Birgitta Jonsdottir, the chief sponsor in parliament of the IMMI proposal said: "Iceland will become the inverse of a tax haven; by offering journalists and publishers some of the most powerful protections for free speech and investigative journalism in the world. Tax havens aim is to make everything opaque. Our aim it to make everything transparent."

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