Reevaluating Media Law in Iceland

//Margrét Magnúsdóttir, Legal Advisor, at the Ministry of Education, Science, and Culture in Iceland discusses upcoming changes to Iceland’s evolving media law.

Over the past two years Iceland´s media regime has undergone major legal reform. Following banking crash of 2008, the Icelandic Authorities launched an extensive parliamentary investigation into the causes and aftermath of the financial tsunami that hit the economy in the fall of that year. The 2000 page report found an alarming lack of safeguards protecting important values of society, including support for media freedom with no legal barriers for professional journalism. To address this issue the Icelandic Parliament passed a proposal on June 16, 2010 for a parliamentary resolution tasking the government to introduce a new legislation that would support freedom of expression and information as well as protect journalists and whistleblowers. The Parliament planned to use rules and regulations from the most liberal media acts in the world as examples for the Icelandic law.

The resolution is an ambitious plan to promote transparency and media openness in Iceland and influence other countries across an increasingly interconnected world. Many in Iceland felt that journalists were partly to blame for the economic crisis for not questioning the rapid economic expansion or investigating signs of misconduct; therefore, the overall goal is to improve democracy by creating an environment for safe investigative journalism and reporting.  The project also presents economic opportunities for Iceland by creating a progressive environment for the registration and operation of international media companies, human rights groups, and data centre companies in Iceland.

Due to the complexity of the prerequisite legislative changes, it is impossible to pass the legal reforms at the same time. At least 13 legal acts must be assessed and adapted for this protective legal framework to emerge. The Ministry of Education, Science and Culture is responsible for preparing these draft amendment acts. Given the number of different laws affected, the Minister appointed a steering committee in May 2012, which is leading the work in analysing and evaluating the legal environment to help direct the parliamentary resolution. The steering committee shall submit its recommendations to the Ministry with a discussion of key issues and strategies for amendments in accordance with its findings.

In some cases the need for legal amendments is clear; in other cases more work is needed. For instance, the section of the resolution which addresses who takes responsibility for published material still needs to be determined. It is unclear who would be held responsible under Icelandic law if an entity in another country used Icelandic media as a platform for publishing hate speech and encouraging violence. The flow of information has no borders and much media publishing is moving to the Internet. As media regulation has traditionally been dealt with on the national level, the Internet and globalisation has created multiple legal issues.

The steering committee, which is turning the resolution into the draft legislation, is facing challenging questions, especially those dealing with liability and international legal obligation. The resolution must not only be viewed from the Icelandic point of view, as Iceland is a member of the European Economic Area (EEA) and also other international communities. Therefore, it is essential for Iceland to consider this resolution with an international perspective.

The steering committee has already recommended changes to Icelandic libel law, which has not been updated since 1940 despite massive changes to human rights law. Furthermore, the committee will propose rules on whistleblower protection that will include a simplification of confidentiality requirements for public employees. The drafting of the committee’s report is ongoing and it is foreseen that it will be published later this year.

As an employee of the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture, I have had the great opportunity of working for the steering committee. I am convinced that a stay in the Annenberg-Oxford Summer Institute this upcoming summer will be of huge benefit for me in this aspect. Meeting participants with a wide range of backgrounds related to media law and policy, strategic communication, and media will most certainly contribute to my work on this project as well as giving me deeper and more comprehensive knowledge in this field.

//Margrét Magnúsdóttir


Featured Photo Credit:

Attribution Some rights reserved by James Cridland

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