Tag Archives: free speech

Iceland’s Modern Media Initiative

Remember that law that was intended to enshrine Iceland as a ‘haven’ for journalistic free speech? Well, it passed unanimously last night.

As mentioned before, a law being passed in one small country doesn’t change certain basic facts about how international law operates (nor the politics pulling the strings thereof), but it’s good to see a nation-state upholding the values I hold dear, and which appear to be increasingly unpopular with the bigger players on the world stage.

But then again, Iceland was pretty thoroughly reamed by the economic implosion, and unlike the rest of us, there was no bailout to be had. Maybe that’s what it takes to get a nation to start thinking straight… tough love, Jerry. Tough love.

Now, if Iceland wanted to start selling shares in its national identity to individuals (and hence, by extension, protection by said laws), I think a pretty big queue of geeks and wonks would form right now… myself among them.

Haven is a place on earth: can Iceland be made into a free-speech safe harbour?

Icelandic flagVia Jay Rosen, here’s an interview with Julian Assange, editor of the infamous Wikileaks whistleblower website, explaining how the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative organisation intends to attempt to turn Iceland into a global safe haven for journalism and free speech:

BOB GARFIELD: So you’ve skimmed the cream of media protection and source protection laws from around the world, from the U.K., from Sweden, from Belgium, and so forth, with the idea of benefiting Icelanders or of, in fact, becoming a haven where journalists from around the world could take refuge to do their work without fear of government interference?

JULIAN ASSANGE: Some people say haven, but we want to aim for heaven. Yes, it’s actually possible to use a law in one jurisdiction to strengthen the press in another. For example, we were involved in a case in South Africa where the South African Competition Commission released a redacted report on cartel behavior in the South African banks. We then released the redacted portions, and a prosecutor was appointed to go after our source.

We used the Swedish and Belgian law successfully in that case to argue that the investigation team in South Africa was at risk of becoming party to a crime in Sweden and Belgium. People don’t want to risk that, and they don’t want to risk fighting that out in court or having their assets seized overseas or having problems when traveling.

That’s the, the reason source protection and other protections of the press can have positive effect in jurisdictions around the world.

BOB GARFIELD: Now, you talked about heaven. I’m afraid I have to ask you about hell. I wonder if a regime of blanket protection for journalists and those who are legitimate sources wouldn’t also protect those who would wish to hide behind these impregnable shields to create mischief, whether it’s libel or blackmail or simple journalistic irresponsibility?

JULIAN ASSANGE: You have to remember there are not absolute protections. For example, malicious libel is not protected against in the new package of laws. And, I mean, what country is suffering from too much press freedom? Can you name the country that is actually at risk of having a too vibrant and free press? There is no such country.

It’s a lovely idea, very noble and very necessary… but geography is a slippery thing already, and a small country like Iceland – recently eviscerated as it was by the economic collapse – might have trouble standing up to big players (or coalitions of smaller ones), be they nation-states or corporations. [image by biologyfishman]

While we’re speaking of the psychogeography and architectural philosophy of islands, Tim Maly’s recent “Islands In The Net” essay examines the increasingly weird legal status of islands (and the reasons they’re so attractive and important to governments and anti-statists alike), and it includes a link to an article at the Citizen Media Law Project which is less than bullish on the chances of IMMI’s campaign doing much good:

… the problem is that whatever Iceland does, it can’t change the 500-pound gorilla of international media law: the principle that publication happens at the point of download, not the point of upload. The poster child case for this principle is Dow Jones & Co., Inc. v. Gutnick, a case that reached the High Court of Australia in 2002.  In that case, Gutnick sued Barron’s Online for publishing an allegedly defamatory article about him, and despite the fact that no one in Australia other than Gutnick’s lawyers actually read the offending article, the judges unanimously ruled that Australian laws applied, and thus Dow Jones (publisher of Barron’s Online) was liable to Gutnick.  At least at the time, the High Court of Australia was the highest court worldwide to hear a case involving this issue, and for better or worse, its ruling has carried the day in similar cases around the world since.

This will be a long battle, I suspect, but I’m glad to see some Davids giving Goliath the finger.

Iceland as free speech haven-state

Still riffing on the shifting sands of geopolitics, here’s another interesting nugget: the people behind the controversial (and short-of-funds) Wikileaks site have been lobbying Iceland to introduce a suite of journalism shield laws and become a sort of free-speech sanctuary or safe harbour for controversial data [via @qwghlm].

The new laws would be modeled on the kind of shady tax laws that tax havens offer the rich. Under the WikiLeaks’ proposal, Iceland would offer sources and journalists a strong package of legal protections thereby establishing itself as a sanctuary for free speech.

Wikileaks’ proposed laws are based on a pick-a-mix approach to the freedom of speech laws around the world: “So we could just say we’re taking the source protection laws from Sweden … the First Amendment from the United States, (and) Belgium’s protection laws for journalists,” said WikiLeaks’ Daniel Schmitt at the Chaos Communication Congress (26C3) that took place last week in Berlin.

Iceland’s a good target, I guess – their recent adventures in economics have left them very open to legislative change, for a start. But how much use will national laws be in a world where nations are little more than a rectangle of coloured cloth and some nostalgic folk songs?