Birgitta Jónsdóttir and Iceland’s New Media Initiative
On March 23rd, Iceland’s 43% female Parliament banned strip clubs on the grounds that, “It is not acceptable that women or people in general are a product to be sold.” Since then, the “Alþingi” or Althingi have continued to think outside the box. Just this week, in fact, they unanimously voted to create legislation on what is being called the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative. The initiative’s goal is to create a global safe heaven for investigative journalism by protecting freedom of expression and information and providing protection for sources and whistleblowers. As Icelandic Parliament member and one of the proposal’s nineteen proposers Birgitta Jónsdóttir stated yesterday in an interview on Democracy Now!: “And what the law focuses on is to take all the best possible legislation from around the world, including from the United States, and create a holistic, modern package, so to speak, tackling these problems that we’re facing when it comes to freedom of information, speech and expression. So we are tackling source protection and whistleblower protection and bringing into this package the best laws we could possibly find.” This initiative does not mean a simple shift in approach or attitude in regards to journalism. Rather, extensive review and re-writing of numerous laws will need to be undertaken. Furthermore, Iceland is planning to establish an internationally acclaimed prize that would recognize those dedicated to advancing the rights related to freedom of expression, namely journalists, whistleblowers, human rights activists and publishers.
These changes in Icelandic law will not only affect Icelanders and Icelandic journalists but is meant to alter the realm of global journalism. They will do so by rewarding hard-hitting investigative journalism being done worldwide with the Icelandic Prize for Freedom of Expression, but they will also do so by granting immunity for Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and telecommunication carriers as well as purposefully neglecting foreign decisions on the matter that violate Iceland’s established freedom of expression protections. These policies recognize that the sharing of information is quickly becoming more of an international phenomenon as global citizens continually turn to the internet for their news, where, via blogs, social networks and other sites, it can transcend national borders. Sweden and Belgium have already regularly begun providing protection for sources from outside their country that choose to instead publish their internet content through them, where protection laws are stricter than elsewhere. Iceland hopes to develop this process, making sure that those seeking to expose military, government and corporate corruption worldwide will not face prosecution for their courageous acts.
This is one of many steps being taken by Icelandic leaders to reform the country as a whole. Having faced an extreme financial meltdown in 2008, Iceland has set about to rebuild itself in a way that will hopefully guarantee no such financial travesty will happen again. Doing so effectively, Icelanders have demonstrated, means looking to culture and enforcing values, not just money changing hands among the wealthy and powerful. As Birgitta Jónsdóttir writes on the IMMI website, “People woke up to the fact that the infrastructure they had put their trust in, had failed. Our academics, the government, the parliament, the central bank, and the media had all failed. It made us understand that the media was weak, that there was a lack of transparency and that in order to live in a healthy society, we had take part in shaping it.” And it’s interesting to see where this change is coming from. Birgitta Jónsdóttir, for example, is not your average politician. She was elected to Parliament as a member of the Civic Movement, which is a “hit and run party,” seeking to bring immediate and swift reform for the benefit of the larger public. She is an artist, an author and an activist. Her artwork has been exhibited internationally and her poetry and prose translated into twelve languages. She is the creative director of Beyond Borders, a small press. She has organized demonstrations and groups in response to the war in Iraq, the destruction of Icelandic highlands, and she recently participated in the transcribing, fact checking and distribution of Wikileaks’ Collateral Murder video.
By reviewing the stated intentions behind this initiative as well as the histories of those proposing the reform, it becomes clear that there is something unique going on these days in Iceland. They have a government that values honesty and true transparency and values the interests of the many over the few. While this is just a brief informative report on the matter, I plan on following the initiative as it develops and bringing GAB readers more detailed news on the matter as it emerges.