freedom

January 8, 2015 | Posted in:Uncategorized

The political climate in Europe has taken a major U-turn in the last two years, and in 2014 it became significantly more dire. There has been a drastic shift in mood, from a progressive quest for a more liberal and safe environment, to growing nationalism and authoritarianism.

One of the ways we see this manifest is in information- and media freedoms. It has become clear that governments have engaged in massive systematic abuses of people’s privacy. Media freedoms have been eroded, both in countries with poor human rights records, and in countries that have traditionally had good standing. This is due to many factors — corruption, abuse of power, consolidation of media markets, and selective enforcement of law amongst other things. This is all facilitated by bad laws.

In Iceland, 2014 turned out to be a very bad year for media. The state broadcaster’s budget was slashed, apparently for political reasons, and many of its key staff were replaced or fired. Fréttablaðið, the country’s largest newspaper, and Stöð 2, an associated television network, both had their news editors replaced on short notice. DV, another large newspaper, was subject to a hostile takeover, with its editor and many of its journalists getting the axe. Many other journalists, as well as independent bloggers who used these media as their platform have resigned or moved on in protest. These sweeping changes to the media market have borne forward chilling effects, which will need to be counteracted in the year 2015.

Since 2011 the International Modern Media Institute has been working to improve the situation in media, but back when we started, things looked quite positive. We’ve conducted research into law, raised awareness of issues, and advocated for changes in legislation to create a safe haven for information, expression and privacy. We’ve focused early on on Iceland, with the aim to set a good example by creating a global safe haven for information. Turning the safe haven vision into reality will serve the world community as anyone needing strong legal protection for publication, reporting, blogging or hosting and the like, can do so within Icelandic jurisdiction.

In 2014, our efforts were expanded over a variety of legislative projects and research projects. We focused more actively on collaborations on larger projects, while still maintaining some of our previous legal research. This approach paid off, although in some ways it proved distracting from the more immediate goals. Therefore, for 2015, a better balance must be struck.

It is clear that 2015 holds both promise and peril, but in the words of Winston Churchill, if you’re going through hell, keep going.

Projects

IMMI is a partner in the European FP7 project D-CENT: Decentralized Citizens’ Engagement Technologies among various other partners such as W3C, Nesta, Citizens’ Foundation, Dyne and others. D-CENT looks towards creating technologies for civil society groups, activists, and NGOs, to communicate and deliberate on decentralized platforms, using open source tools. Amongst major milestones, the project released a paper on the technical design of Open Social Web for Crowdsourced Democracy, and a Pilot Implementation of Open Social Web for Participatory Democracy.

In 2014 IMMI also participated in the Bulgarian eDemocracy Project, where we have been analysing the situation of e-democracy, transparency, and access to knowledge in Bulgaria, and disseminating information about advances in the same abroad. This project will culminate with a conference in Bulgaria in Q1 2015.

Defamation law reform

Last year saw defamation law in Iceland heavily criticized when the assistant to the then Interior Minister pressed charges against two journalists on grounds of defamation, asking for the highest penalty to be applied, namely, two years behind bars. This drew heavy criticism from the International Press Institute (IPI) which had just conducted research into defamation law in Europe, pointing out that Iceland (among others) still had obsolete defamation laws, badly needing reform. IPI voiced their grave concerns about the state of libel and defamation laws in Iceland, the threat to journalism and the subsequent chilling effects in a statement.

The same case, and the general state of journalism in Iceland and governmental interference thereof drew heavy criticism from Reporters without Borders (RSF) where RSF stated their concerns at the declining freedom of information in Iceland in the last two years.

The case against the two DV journalists – prompted by reporting on the so-called Leak-case – was later settled, but the fact remains that as long as defamation law in Iceland carries such severe penalties, the threat of imprisonment, however unlikely, can be used as has been shown recently. The IMMI steering committee has written a report on defamation law reform and a bill is expected to be submitted in parliament this spring. IMMI will continue to push for necessary reform in defamation law.

Network neutrality

In the autumn of 2014, IMMI chairman Birgitta Jónsdóttir submitted a parliamentary resolution on Equal access to the Internet, in the vain of Net Neutrality ideology. In said resolution, access to the Internet is considered a right and as such, needs to be ensured, regardless of income or location. IMMI will continue to fight and advocate for Net Neutrality in Iceland and abroad and, to that end, IMMI joined the Global Net Neutrality Coalition towards the end of 2014, consisting of over 50 NGOs and other civil society groups from around the world. Threats to Net Neutrality need to be taken very seriously and fought at every turn, as they pose a threat to the freedom of the Internet, and seriously jeopardize equal access to information and communication.

Other ongoing work

A bill on Whistleblower Protection is being drafted in tandem with research into best practice law. A previous version has been entered into the Icelandic parliament, although it was not dealt with at that time. A new and updated version is expected to be submitted to parliament in H2 2015.

A debate on censorship should have taken place but did not in late 2014 when a group called ISIS/ISIL hosted a website on Icelandic servers using an Icelandic domain. The Prime Minister moved swiftly to explain this had nothing to do with freedom of speech or expression, preempting debate. The hosting company closed down the groups’ registration but it quickly popped up elsewhere, still using the Icelandic domain. ISNIC, the company overseeing registrations on the .is domain deliberated long and hard about whether to allow the group to use the Icelandic domain, concluding it would close down its registration (ISNIC were internally divided on the issue). IMMI wrote an article on the matter published at Kjarninn, where we stated our view that the only proper process for taking down registrations was, and is, through the courts. Subsequently, The Voice of America (the official external broadcasting institution of the United States’ federal government) submitted a press enquiry to IMMI gauging IMMI’s stance on certain issues – questions and IMMI’s answers: here.

The IMMI steering committee – overseen by the Ministry of Education and Culture –  tasked with working on the IMMI parliamentary resolution has been affected by ministerial budget cuts, illustrated in both a lack of an operation budget as well as a lack in personnel. The Minister of Education and Culture has not debriefed parliament regularly about the work of said committee, as laid out in the original resolution, presumably because of the limited resources the committee has to work with, impacting on its efficacy. However, Birgitta Jónsdóttir, the Pirate Party and other opposition parties fought for the steering committee to be financed in the state budget of 2015, which had previously not been allocated any budget in the governments’ state budget for 2015. IMMI greatly welcomes the financing of the steering committee, not least because it indicates a certain political will to continue the work parliament unanimously agreed to in 2010, a parliament consisting of quite a few members of the current government. As before, IMMI has a seat on the steering committee and eagerly awaits the committee’s work over the next weeks and months.

In 2014, IMMI was covered in interviews and articles in numerous countries including Iceland, the US, UK, Qatar, Bulgaria, the Netherlands, Ukraine, Finland and Russia. IMMI staff and board wrote articles about IMMI’s issues in four publications in Iceland and the US. IMMI staff and board members attended conferences on IMMI’s behalf in Turkey, Bulgaria, the UK, Finland and Iceland.

Prospectus for 2015

As previously stated, in 2015 we will have to strike a new balance in IMMI’s operations, maintaining our broad project scope while not losing track of the overall goal. Although the year will unfold in its own way, here are some of the highlights we foresee:

  • In early 2015 a special edition of the New Internationalist magazine will be published, guest-edited by IMMI. This will mark the beginning of a large awareness campaign, which will go alongside a fundraising drive.
  • By the end of Q1 we expect to complete the Bulgarian e-Democracy project, with the publication of a green book and a conference in Bulgaria.
  • In 2015 there are a number of different deliverables in the D-CENT project, including research on social digital currency, models to build and self-govern the Commons, and various scientific publications.
  • Other ongoing legislative efforts continue on their own pace, but we intend to expand operations in Brussels in 2015.
  • IMMI will conduct research into best practice law in Intermediary Protection, estimating the major threats to intermediaries, whilst seeking participation from stakeholders. IMMI will endeavor to draft a bill for parliament for H2 2015.
  • The steering committee tasked with working on the IMMI parliamentary resolution has completed a report on defamation law reform and it is expected that a bill will be presented in parliament in H1 2015.
  • IMMI is conducting research into whistleblower protection and best practice law thereof, aiming to draft a bill to be submitted in parliament in 2015.
  • IMMI will conduct research into VLLC in 2015, with view to the ongoing Microsoft case. Many things remain unclear in terms of VLLC law and research is greatly needed. Again, IMMI will seek cooperation with major stakeholders.
  • IMMI Chairman, Birgitta Jónsdóttir, will lead work on a parliamentary resolution for the International Parliamentary Union (IPU) in 2015, in the spirit of the IMMI parliamentary resolution in Iceland. IMMI will conduct research upon which the IPU resolution will build, in the aim of improving freedom of information, freedom of expression and privacy and data protection.
  • IMMI is in the process of populating its Advisory Board and will unveil it soon on its website. Our advisors are academics, journalists, lawyers, information and media experts and activists.

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