Iceland has passed a package of legislation that intends to make the country an international safe haven for investigative journalists, it was reported by the AFP and the Independent among others. The new laws, created with the help of Wikileaks, were passed unanimously in the Icelandic parliament at 4am on Wednesday last week.
The Icelandic Modern Media Initiative was first proposed in February, by which time Julian Assange, founder and editor of whistleblower site Wikileaks, had already been consulting with MPs for two months on the proposal to implement some of the strongest protection in the world for the press and its sources. The idea is that the new package will also help bring an end to libel tourism, and make it much harder to censor stories before they are published.
Kristinn Hrafnsson, an investigative journalist with public broadcaster RUV, who has co-operated with Wikileaks, told the AFP that work on the IMMI had already created a secure environment for revealing sensitive information. The now well-known Wikileaks video showing the deadly US Apache helicopter strike in Baghdad that was released in April was edited in Reykjavik, seen as the safest place to prepare it, he said.
The Swedish-based Wikileaks publishes anonymous submissions and leaks of sensitive documents from governments and other sources, and protects these sources' anonymity, thus providing investigative journalists with a potentially powerful resource. Tips and potential stories are fact-checked by an editorial team to ensure that they are accurate. This team also adds context, translates and promotes important leaks.
Confidentiality of sources was recently questioned in Canada when Canadian newspaper the National Post was ordered by the country's Supreme Court to hand over documents to the police from a confidential source. "The bottom line is that no journalist can give a source a total assurance of confidentiality. All such arrangements necessarily carry an element of risk that the source's identity will eventually be revealed," AFP quoted the court as saying.
And debate over journalistic shield laws recently emerged in California when Gizmodo journalist Jason Chen, who had obtained a prototype of Apple's then unreleased new iPhone, had computers and servers confiscated from his home by police. Gawker argued that this was illegal under the state's laws to protect journalists.
Will news organisations based outside Iceland try to take advantage of the new laws? The Independent reported that Icelandic MP and the new legislation's key supporter Birgitta Jonsdottir had said that Germany's Der Spiegel and America's ABC News have discussed the possibility of moving the publication of their investigative journalism to Iceland.
However, it will take some time before the legislation comes into effect: Jonsdottir told Nieman Journalism Lab that the laws are currently being drafted and changes should be passed in about a year. And as Nieman's Jonathan Stray noted, it may well be years before it becomes clear what the new laws mean for journalists worldwide.