Thursday, February 11, 2010

Iceland to be haven for out-of-work investigative reporters and whistleblowers?

I'm not sure what to make of this. From Neiman Labs, Iceland's parliament is attempting to make their country for investigative reporting and publishing. Sounds great in theory, and hard to argue with their grandeur of their goal, but am skeptical-- and not sure what "libel-tourism prevention laws" are.

In any case, below is a good portion of the article.

On Tuesday, the Icelandic parliament is expected to introduce a measure aimed at making the country an international center for investigative journalism publishing, by passing the strongest combination of source protection, freedom of speech, and libel-tourism prevention laws in the world.

Supporters of the proposal say the move would make Iceland an “offshore publishing center” for free speech, analogous to the offshore financial havens that allow corporations to hide capital from authorities. Could global news organizations with a home office in Reykjavík soon be as common as Delaware corporations or Cayman Islands assets?

“This is a legislative package to create a haven for freedom of expression,” Icelandic member of parliament Birgitta Jónsdóttir confirmed to me, saying that a proposal for comprehensive media law reform will be filed in parliament on Tuesday, and that whistle-blowing specialists Wikileaks has been involved in drafting it. There have been persistent hints of an Icelandic media move in recent weeks, including tweets from Wikileaks and a cryptic message from the newly created @icelandmedia Twitter account.

The text of the proposal, called the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative, is not yet public, but the most detailed evidence comes from a video of a talk by Julian Assange and Daniel Schmitt of Wikileaks, given at the Chaos Communications Congress hacker conference in Berlin on Dec. 27:

We could just say we’re taking the source protection laws from Sweden, for example…we could take the First Amendment from the United States, we could take Belgian protection laws for journalists, and we could all pack these together in one bundle, and make it fit for the first jurisdiction that offers the necessities of an information society.

Schmitt termed the idea “a Switzerland of bits.” He also mentions that “lawyers in Iceland are working on a bill that will be introduced on the 26th of January,” although it appears the date of introduction has been pushed back to next week. And he cites Iceland as a path to eventually spreading similar laws throughout the EU

A safe haven for leakers and investigators

Jónsdóttir explained that the proposal does not contain final legislation, but would instruct the government to create a package of laws that enhance journalistic freedoms in specific ways. According to an email from Assange (which was then leaked, ironically enough) the amendments would cover source protection, whistleblower protection, immunity for ISPs and other carriers, freedom of information requests, and strong limits on prior restraint. They would also provide protection against libel judgements from other jurisdictions, much as the United States may soon do with the Free Speech Protection Act of 2009.

This package was designed by a working group including representatives from government, civil society, and Wikileaks, which has considerable experience in international media law and censorship issues. The site accepts anonymous submissions of material of public interest, and publishes them without question. Since its its inception in Jan. 2007, Wikileaks has released thousands of sensitive documents, including an investigation of extra-judicial killings in Kenya and more than 500,000 intercepted pager messages from New York on the morning of September 11, 2001. When The Guardian obtained documents alleging the dumping of 400 tons of toxic waste on behalf of global commodities trader Trafigura, they were slapped with a “super-injunction” which prevented them from disclosing not only the contents of the documents, but the existence of the gag order. Wikileaks published the material three days later. Wikileaks is currently down for a fundraising drive but says it will resume operation shortly.

Read the rest of the article here.