Iceland: A Future Free Speech Paradise?

By Jennifer Janviere

A recent segment of National Public Radio’s “On the Media,” pinpoints Iceland as a future haven for journalism.

This is largely due to the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative, (IMMI), a proposed bill to protect journalists from legal recourse by strengthening the laws governing freedom of speech and information, privacy of informants and protection against lawsuits by corporations for reporting the facts.

The movement stems from a crash in the country’s banking system and economy between 2008 and 2009. During this time, national broadcaster RUV (Ríkisútvarpið) attempted to release records to the public warning of impending financial catastrophe due to mismanagement by the country’s largest bank. They were prevented from doing so by an injunction that appeared shortly before the story was scheduled to air. As a result, the public didn’t learn what was going on behind the scenes in the Icelandic banking industry until well after the damage was done to the national economy.

From crisis, however, arises opportunity, and as the details of this story surfaced it became clear that reform was needed for laws governing the country’s media. Lawmakers borrowed legal language from England, Sweden and Belgium (all considered progressive leaders in the arena free speech protection) to create a bill addressing the issue.

Why does this matter to those of us in the United States? The IMMI reinforces a journalist’s right to inform the public of pressing and potentially catastrophic issues, and prevents special interests from interfering with the public right to know such information. That sets an important precedent against which similar cases can be measured, even in other countries. If such a measure passes, Iceland could become home to Internet-based media from around the world.

As the field of journalism continues its rapid evolution, news of the IMMI seems to be one bright spot in the outlook for the industry. This story is worth following, not just for media professionals but for anyone interested in the future of freedom of information, a concept that truly shapes a democratic society.

Read the original story transcripts

Follow the IMMI on Twitter: @icelandmedia

Jennifer Janviere is a multimedia specialist and instructor in the Diederich College of Communication.

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The opinions expressed here are those of the individual authors and do not represent the views of Marquette University or the Diederich College of Communication.

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