It's no secret that Iceland was hit particularly hard by the global financial crisis. Three of its largest banks were nationalized and the government collapsed. Reykjavik, the nation's capital, saw unprecedented riots and the Icelandic currency— the Krona— plummeted along with the bank accounts of every Icelander. Forbes even went as far to declare it "the land without an economy." But could the economic chaos in Iceland have a silver lining?
Today members of the Icelandic Parliament will introduce a resolution that could begin Iceland's transformation into the globe's first "journalism haven." The proposal tasks the parliament with cementing "freedom of expression and information in Iceland, as well as providing strong protections for sources and whistleblowers."
Specifically, the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative (IMMI) calls for a new package of laws including: strong source and whistleblower protection, airtight communications protection, strict limits on prior restraint, process protection, libel tourism protection and a reinvention of that country's Freedom of Information Act.
The legislation stands a good chance of passing because of the critical role outlets like Wikileaks, the online whistleblowing site, played in reporting Iceland's financial crisis.
"Iceland is at a crossroads," the IMMI states. "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 laws themselves would not be new, but borrowed from countries where they have already proven effective. (One example is New York's legislation to block the enforcement of UK judgments restricting press freedom.) "We are not inventing any laws but taking the cream of all laws that have proven to ensure the basic human rights of freedom of expression, freedom of speech and information," said Icelandic MP Birgitta Jonsdottir in an email to NPR.
Although proponents say their motivation is rooted in a desire for a more transparent and democratic world, they've also trumpeted the potential economic benefits. The proposal claims that Iceland would attract Internet-based international media and publishers, start-ups, data centers and human rights organizations. Just as The British Virgin Islands use lenient tax laws to entice banks to their shores, advocates argue Iceland could also attract whistle blowers and journalists by altering its publication laws.
"It is hard to imagine a better resurrection for a country that has been devastated by financial corruption than to turn facilitating transparency and justice into a business model," the IMMI states.
After the decimation of its banking sector, Icelanders were expected to return to their economic roots - fishing. But could there be a future in free speech? To seal the deal, the IMMI also touts the island's other benefits: fast undersea Internet cables and cool temperatures (great for cutting server cooler costs).