Could Iceland be the new home for journalistic freedom?
By Tamara Baluja
Go to the Cayman Islands if you want a haven for tax evasion. Go to Switzerland for a extremely secure bank account. Go to Iceland for journalistic freedom?
Between Feb. 17 and 26, the Icelandic Parliament will be debating a resolution that could make the Nordic country a dream package for whistle blowers and journalists alike.
The proposal stems from 2008 devastating economic collapse in Iceland, which was partly traced to corruption uncovered by reporters abroad. Eventually, it prompted calls for improving information access and protecting whistle-blowers.
To that end, the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative (IMMI) has called for new laws that encourage source protection and guarantees for whistle blowers.
"Iceland is at a crossroads," the IMMI states on its website. "Because of the economic meltdown in the banking sector, a deep sense is among the nation that a fundamental change is needed in order to prevent such events from taking place again."
The goal of the IMMI proposal is to find "ways to strengthen freedom of expression around the world and in Iceland, as well as providing strong protections for sources and whistleblowers ... with the purpose of assembling the best laws to make Iceland a leader of freedoms of expression and information."
I think the legislation has a good chance of passing and I certainly hope it does.
The Icelandic economic meltdown highlights the importance of investigative sites, such as WikiLeaks that published internal documents on loans made by Kaupthing Bank, one of several Icelandic banks involved in the crisis. WikiLeaks protects the identities and origins of its sources, so that it is virtually untraceable.
The IMMI proposal also hopes to counteract "libel tourism" in countries such as Britain where media are challenged with laws that heavily favour the plaintiff in libel cases.
Without a doubt, this could be the start of a new journalism era.
As for the rest of the world, it’s hard to say. In the U.S., the Government Accountability Project and the Paley Center for Media hosted a rather timely session honouring whistle blowers on Feb. 17. Several notable people were part of the conference including Daniel Ellsberg, who was responsible for the leak of the Pentagon Papers. The session highlighted the challenges that whistle blowers face, including loss of job and credibility.
But if Iceland is any indication, the Canadian government should take heed. Public thirst for accountability will not quickly forget Richard Colvin's reports on the torture of Afghan detainees.
We, too, stand at crossroads.
Tamara Baluja is radio room reporter, a journalism student and former GA at CFRB News. firstname.lastname@example.org