Iceland Passes Law to Protect Press Freedom

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.


  1. Hi,

    I’m wondering how this may or may not affect privacy.

    In Canada we have seen lawsuits against blog owner for pasting a link.

    We have seen lawsuits against blog owners for what an Anon or non-anon commenter writes.

    We have seen courts orders that require blog owners, newspapers owners, and forum owners forced to hand over any identifying info on a commenter.

    What if a blog, newspaper, or forum opens shop in Iceland where the writer (journalist) is scooping whistle-blowing data from anon postings?

    How are the people who comment protected, if they are? I mean, most stories start from some sort of leak. In Canada one can sue to expose the source (from what I understand). How would this work in Iceland? Sure, the Canadian blog writer can be sued and the link remain open to the public from the Icelandic server, but what about the source which may come by an anon posting on a blog in Iceland?

    Does the law to protect press freedom also protect the privacy of the anon person who may have posted the leak?

    What is the privacy impact?

    Not sure if I properly conveyed what I to get across. :)

    Best regards,

  2. Bravo for Iceland! The “reward” mentioned is long-overdue. Will the award be available for non-Icelandic nominees or potential recipients? Iceland could certainly take a big step in this global media initiative, joining other global-reaching organizatiosn that promote such freedoms. Despite much of our grumblings and biases in jounralism; without fair, honest, and open journalism, we would all be in a darker place right now.