Media Matters: Iceland a Port of Refuge

By Tesha Miller

Julian Assange’s creation of Wikileaks and its subsequent release of hundreds of thousands of classified US War and Diplomatic documents has become one of the most controversial journalistic undertakings of the day. The release of this sensitive material has spurned a global debate about the role of journalism in contemporary times and what level of information is appropriate for individual consumption. The amount of knowledge that the public has on national and international affairs depends directly upon the legislative outcomes to these new information challenges and ultimately, how we decide to protect journalists, whistleblowers and news media organizations.

The United States, due to its Constitutional first amendment right, is considered one of the top nations in the world for freedom of speech and freedom of press protections. However, recent deregulation in media ownership, which allows fewer people to own larger market shares and the ending of the Fairness Doctrine, which once required all news media to report stories as fairly as possible, has punctured the integrity of reporting information. A direct result of these changes are: a few media moguls who can now report news stories from a single point of view. So, while it remains true that news media may still report what it wants freely, it is also true that media can spin a story’s content to manipulate public opinion.

But this article isn’t about that closing window toward accessibly of news information, it is about the legislative workings coming from an unlikely nation to counteract such threats and the attempts to protect not only its own borders access to information but, that of the world.

Enter Iceland. A port of refuge.

Icelandic member of parliament Birgitta Jonsdottir along with representatives from government, civil society, and Wikileaks spearheaded a comprehensive media reform law which specifically is aimed at the prevention of media censorship. On June 16, 2010, Iceland’s Parliament passed The Icelandic Modern Media Initiative which intended to make the country a haven for journalistic freedom of information, speech, and expression. This piece of legislation began a process of editing 13 separate laws which are expected to be completed around June 2011. It specifically was geared to attract investigative journalism and other potentially threatened online media. Supporters of this legislation say that it will make Iceland the offshore publishing center of the world. The legislation contains many protections for journalists some of which include:

# Freedom of Information Act, based on Organization of American States recommendations.

# Whistleblowers protections: based on US False Claims Act and Military Whistleblowers Act

# Source Protection: based on European Economic Area legislation for anonymous sources and Belgium source protection for media prior to publication.

# It limits government or legal coercion to a publisher

# Protections to internet providers to include both ISPs and telecommunication carriers

While it is true that the struggle for information control is far from over, the legislative efforts of Iceland has tipped the scales, for the moment, in favor of transparency. The repercussions toward Iceland, by the international community, for such bold actions remains to be seen. However, if citizens across the globe adamantly support Iceland with the same amount of courage that they have supported openness in reporting, then nothing will be able to prevent journalistic integrity and the truth from eventually seeing the light of day.

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