Iceland’s venerable parliament, the Althing, has just passed a law that Wikileaks helped craft. The law creates the Modern Media Initiative and alters a whole set of legal duties and rights in order to encourage freedom of the press, transparency in government and corporate dealings, and reward with a prize akin to the Nobel Prize
. . . those who, through their actions in the past 12 months have most advanced humanity through courageous acts of free expression. It is envisaged that the prize would primarily be awarded to journalists, whistleblowers, human rights activists and publishers.
The aim is to shelter journalists and their reports from the repressive actions of those who would like the reports squelched or the journalists intimidated. The genesis of this movement in Iceland was what Ice News calls “the dramatic August 2009 gagging of of Iceland’s national broadcaster, RUV by Iceland’s then largest bank, Kaupthing.”
As the report in the New York Times notes, it is unclear how much protection in fact a journalist will gain from having the story sheltered in Iceland. One issue has to do with jurisdiction in libel actions; if “publication” occurs where an online story is downloaded, the fact that it originated or resides on a server in Iceland wouldn’t prevent a libel action in other countries. The story notes, however, that it would likely mean that the item could not be forced off the server.
Some publications involve matters that could be seen to touch on a nation’s security. For example, Wikileaks has released videos of U.S. military strike that killed civilians and plans to release another. In such cases, affected nations would find ways of bringing pressure to bear on Iceland that might transcend any legal protection journalists may have there.