Iceland’s government and parliament, the Alþing, has voted for the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative (IMMI), a law co-developed with whistleblowing website Wikileaks. The law is posed to turn Iceland into a press haven for journalists worldwide, as it is combines best-practice legislation from around the world in a legislative package designed to protect sources and whistleblowers.
Laws from Belgium, the State of New York, Sweden and other countries were examined to find the best possible ways to protect the flow of information to the public.
Communications between journalists and whistleblowers, for instance, will be legally protected and may not be intercepted by the state. Further issues corrected by IMMI are prior restraint, or simply put gagging orders hindering a newspaper or the nine o’clock news on reporting on a certain subject. Libel laws and libel tourism will also be addressed, making sure reporters do not face claims where their judgement has not breached any laws.
Archives will also find protection. According to European law, an archived newspaper story is published anew when it is pulled from a site and displayed in a browser. This means an English newspaper may have to pull investigative reports if it is brought to court, even two years after publication. IMMI will set a time limit of two months after publication of a report, making sure archives can stay complete.
Iceland suffered a shock when its major banks collapsed during the global financial meltdown. A document posted on Wikileaks showed how shareholders had plundered Kaupthing bank before the bank collapsed. Icelandic television received a court order only minutes before reporting on the leak in the evening news. Instead of not reporting on the matter, the news presenters defiantly said they were not allowed to report everything, so they simply showed the Wikileaks website on television. Icelanders were free to find out about the scandal for themselves. On May 6, the former Kaupthing CEO Heidar Már Sigurdsson was arrested.
The gag order made Icelanders especially sensitive to problems surrounding censorship and the freedom of press, paving the way for a law which hopefully will have a long-term effect on reporting worldwide. As the Trafigura affair has shown, England itself needs a thorough reform of its laws in order to protect the public interest, not the interest of corporations.