Iceland intends to become an offshore haven for journalists and leaks

Original author: Jonathan Stray
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Iceland’s parliament is expected to take action on Tuesday to turn the country into an international center for investigative journalism. The world's strongest package of laws on the protection of sources, freedom of speech and protection against defamation tourism will be adopted.
Proponents of this initiative say this will make Iceland an “offshore publishing center” for freedom of speech, similar to financial offshore companies that allow companies to hide capital from the state. Will media companies headquartered in Reykjavik be as commonplace as companies using the Delaware Corporations Act or assets in the Cayman Islands?

“This is a package of documents to create ideal conditions for freedom of expression,” MP Birgitta Jonsdottir assured me, indicating that a proposal for a comprehensive media reform would be submitted for consideration on Tuesday, and that prominent Wikileaks whistleblowers were involved in drafting the package. In recent weeks, there have been hints of progress in this area, including on Wikileaks tweets, as well as a cryptic message from a freshly created @icelandmedia twitter account.

The text of the proposal, entitled “The Icelandic Media Initiative”, has not yet been published, but the most detailed confirmation of its existence can be seen in the video recording of the speech by Julian Assange and Daniel Schmidt of Wikileaks at the Chaos Communications Congress hacker conference held on December 27, 2009 in Berlin.

[Watch the video here .]

We can only say that we take the Swedish law on the protection of information sources, for example ... We could take the first amendment to the US constitution, we could take the Belgian law on the protection of journalists, then pack it all in one package and make it a legal basis that regulates all the needs of information society.

Schmidt formulated the idea of ​​"Switzerland for the bits." He mentions that "Icelandic lawyers are working on a law that will be introduced on January 26," although, as we see, the date has been shifted by several weeks. In addition, he invites the countries of the European Union to follow the example of Iceland and adopt similar legislation.

Paradise for leaks and investigators

Jonsdottir explained that the initiative does not contain ready-made laws, it will only help the government create a package of laws that will improve journalistic freedoms in a special way. According to Assange’s letter, which, incidentally, itself became a leak, amendments to the law will affect the protection of information sources, protection of whistleblowers, immunity of Internet providers and other telecommunications, freedom of information and strict restrictions on court orders prohibiting the publication of any material for a while conducting proceedings. In addition, they will provide protection against defamation charges from other jurisdictions, which is very similar to what the United States may soon do with the 2009 Freedom of Speech Protection Act.

The package was developed by a working group including representatives from the government, civil society and Wikileaks, which has rich experience in international media law and censorship issues. The site accepts anonymous materials for the benefit of the general interests of society and publishes them without question. Since its launch in January 2007, Wikileaks has published thousands of important documents, including an investigation into extrajudicial killings in Kenya and more than 500,000 paging messages intercepted in New York on September 11, 2001. When the Guardian received documents referring to the dumping of 400 tons of toxic waste on behalf of Trafigura, an international trader in raw materials, she was besieged by a court ban that forbade her not only to disclose the contents of the documents, but even the fact of the ban. Wikileaks published the material three days later.

The site team crossed paths with Iceland last summer. As you know, the country suffered so much from the crisis that the riots in the streets ended with the election of a new government in April. Iceland had a debt that was five times the volume of its annual GDP, and banks managed to keep the names of their creditors secret until in August the central TV received their list. At the last minute, the studio was blocked and not allowed to go on air, but it dawned on them, and instead of the list they showed the URL of its copy on the Wikileaks website. It was “very popular and very necessary so that people could understand what was going on in banks, because we had to nationalize them,” Jonsdottir told me.

The country is set for openness

In the wake of this popularity, Assange and Schmidt arrived in Iceland in early December and launched this idea of ​​creating a paradise for journalists in the country during a talk show, and then revealed it in more detail at a presentation at the University of Reykjavik. Jonsdottir and others were impressed. “The main goal is to prevent a recurrence of crises like our financial crisis,” MP Lily Mozesdottir said, noting that Icelandic financiers had a great influence on Icelandic media. “They manipulated the news.”

Wikileaks managed to shed light on important documents thanks to technology and legislation. The supply of materials is organized anonymously and passes through countries with well-developed legislation protecting journalistic sources. Last year, I noticed Assange that Wikileaks was lucky that they registered their domain name in California, where in 2008 a case initiated by a Swiss bank against a domain name registrar was supposed to fail. (In fact, this happened thanks to the support of a number of major American media). Assange replied that this was not an accident, and that Wikileaks had yet to lose the court.

Legal elasticity may also serve the interests of defamation tourism. One case is known when a Saudi billionaire filed a lawsuit in London against the European editors of the Wall Street Journal in Brussels for an article published by the Wall Street Journal in New York. Some courts have ruled that posting an article on the Internet is considered a publication if it is accessible from a territory in their jurisdiction. This decision meant that potentially web publishing could be declared defamation in any country in the world. On February 7, Assange wrote:

We do not expect everyone to go our hard way. Large newspapers are censored in the form of legal costs ... It's time to stop it. It’s time for the country to say “enough”, it’s time to see justice, it’s time to preserve history, and we will give refuge from the storm.

Jonsdottir said the proposal has already been supported by the Left Green Movement, the Social Democratic Alliance, and the Civil Movement on whose behalf she speaks. This represents 38 of the 63 parliamentary seats of Iceland. A simple majority is enough to pass a law. She hopes that the vote will take place within a month, and that if everything goes smoothly, then the final bills will be drafted and adopted within six months. But the situation is changeable, she noted that “the government is on the verge of collapse”, as a referendum is coming ahead on the restructuring of debt to the United Kingdom and Dutch banks.

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