The Icelandic Modern Media Initiative#
Iceland is becoming a data haven with the most progressive internet laws in the world, due to the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative, which is now a project of the International Modern Media Institute.
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 is to make everything transparent. — Birgitta Jónsdóttir, the chief sponsor in parliament of the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative.
The status of the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative is documented on the IMMI site — it's going to take years for all the law changes to be fully implemented.
The origins of the IMMI go back to 2009 and an incident involving Wikileaks:
In August 2009, Kaupþing Bank succeeded in obtaining a court order gagging Iceland’s national broadcaster, RÚV, from broadcasting a risk analysis report showing the bank's substantial exposure to debt default risk. This information had been leaked by a whistleblower to WikiLeaks and remained available on the WikiLeaks site; faced with an injunction minutes before broadcast the channel ran with a screen grab of the WikiLeaks site instead of the scheduled piece on the bank. Citizens of Iceland felt outraged that RÚV was prevented from broadcasting news of relevance. Therefore, WikiLeaks has been credited with inspiring the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative, a bill meant to reclaim Iceland's 2007 Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) ranking as first in the world for free speech. It aims to enact a range of protections for sources, journalists, and publishers. Birgitta Jónsdóttir, a former volunteer for WikiLeaks and member of the Icelandic parliament, is the chief sponsor of the proposal.
Source: Wikileaks: Iceland
On 16 June 2010 Iceland's parliament, the Alþinghi, unanimously approved the IMMI resolution. This is a statement, published by Reporters Without Borders, following that approval:
It [the IMMI] regards freedom of expression as a fundamental right and would create optimal conditions for investigative journalism. 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.
Source: Reporters Without Borders
The IMMI legislation will contain the following elements:
Freedom of information: An "ultra-modern" Freedom of Information Act, based on the 2009 Council of Europe and OAS recommendations as well as modern elements in the FOI laws of Estonia, Scotland, the UK and Norway as well as the Aarhus convention.
Whistleblower protections: Protection for those who step forward to reveal important matters in the public interest, based on the US False Claims Act and the US Military Whistleblowers Act
Source protection: Protection for anonymous sources who attempt to communicate to the public after a promise of confidentiality by a journalist or media organisation. Based on new EEA legislation.
Source-journalist communications protection: Protection for the communications between an anonymous source and a media organisation and internally within a media organisation prior to publication. Based on the Belgium source protection law of 2005.
Limiting prior restraint: Prior restraint is coercion of a publisher, by a government authority, or through the judicial system, to prevent publication of a specific matter. While the Icelandic Constitution provides the right to freedom of expression, small modifications are needed to reduce the possibility of prior restraint.
Protection of intermediaries (Internet service providers): Immunity for "mere conduits", ISPs and telecommunications carriers.
Protection from "libel tourism" and other extrajudicial abuses: Non-observance of foreign judgements that violate Icelandic freedom of expression protection, and the ability to file a counter-suit in Iceland against a party who engages in a calculated attempt to suppress the speech freedoms of an Icelandic entity. Inspired by legislation passed by the states of New York and Florida and proposed legislation elsewhere.
Statute of limitations on publishing liabilities: Recent rulings in Europe maintain that for Internet publications, each page view is publication afresh, regardless of how long ago the material was first released. This has resulted in the silent removal of investigative newspaper stories, including those over five years old, from the online archives of the Guardian and other major newspapers.
Process protections: The majority of legal suits related to publishing settle before final judgement. Hence the court process itself must ensure that it is not used to suppress speech through unequal access to justice, subpoenas, or other interlocutory motions. Process protections (called anti-SLAPP laws in the US) permit a judge to declare the matter a free speech related case, at which point protections are activated to prevent such abuses.
Virtual limited liability companies: Based on the LLC legislation used in the US state of Vermont.
On 7 April 2011 the European Parliament passed a resolution on Iceland which contained:
4. Supports the ongoing work to strengthen the legislative environment with regard to freedom of expression and access to information; welcomes, in this respect, the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative, enabling both Iceland and the EU to position themselves strongly as regards legal protection of the freedoms of expression and information;
Source: 2010 progress report on Iceland
- International Modern Media Initiative - Introduction (video) — A short introductory video to the IMMI project by Niels Ladefoged, featuring Smári McCarthy, Birgitta Jónsdóttir and Guðmundur Ragnar Guðmundsson — 28th May 2011
- Icelandic Modern Media Initiative in the European Parliament (video) — A seminar on the IMMI, freedom of the press and whistleblowers in the European Parliament — 20th April 2011
- Iceland seeks to become sanctuary for free speech — Henry Chu, Los Angeles Times — 2nd April 2011
- Birgitta Jónsdóttir talks about freedom of press, Wikileaks and the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative (video) — The Pascal Decroos Fund for investigative journalism — February 2011
- Information Without Borders? Iceland, WikiLeaks and the electronic frontier — Valgerður Þóroddsdóttir, The Reykjavík Grapevine — 10th February 2011
- Birgitta Jónsdóttir on the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative (audio) — Surprisingly Free — 9th August 2010
- Iceland aims to become a legal safe haven for journalists — Afua Hirsch, The Guardian — 12th July 2010
- The Listening Post (YouTube) — Al Jazeera — March 2010
- Wikileaks and Iceland MPs propose 'journalism haven' — Chris Vallance, BBC News — 12th February 2010