South Africa should follow Iceland’s example

South Africa’s proposed Protection of Information Bill leaves a lot to be desired. Not only is it draconian and regressive but it flies in the face of our constitution and an important debate occurring around the world right now. In the aftermath of the financial meltdown, Iceland, one of the worst countries affected,  realised the importance of access to information as an economic right would spur economic recovery. Hoping to cash in on the need for openness and especially now during the Wikileaks scandal, Iceland is in the process of setting itself up as a safe-haven for journalists as well as information.

Included in Iceland’s Modern Media Initiative are the following proposals:

The Icelandic Prize for Freedom of Expression
Iceland’s first internationally visible prize.

An ultra-modern Freedom of Information Act
Based on the 2009 CoE and OAS recommendations as well as modern elements in the FOI laws of Estonia, Scotland, the UK and Norway as well as the Aarhus treaty. (scope: Iceland)

Whistleblower protections
Protection for those who step forward to reveal important matters in the public interest, based on the U.S. False Claims Act and the U.S. Military Whistleblowers Act. (scope: Iceland)

Source protection
Protection for anonymous sources who attempt to communicate to the public after a promise of confidentiality by a journalist or media organization. Based on new EEA legislation.

Source-journalist communications protection
Protection for the communications between an anonymous source and a media organization and internally within a media organization prior to publication. Based on the Belgium source protection law of 2005.

Limiting prior restraint
Prior restraint is coercion of a publisher, by a government authority, or through the judicial system, to prevent publication of a specific matter. While the Icelandic Constitution provides the right to freedom of expression, small modifications are needed to reduce the possibility of prior restraint.

Protection of intermediaries (internet service providers)
Immunity for “mere conduits”, ISPs and telecommunications carriers.

Protection from “libel tourism” and other extrajudicial abuses
Non-observance of foreign judgments that violate Icelandic freedom of expression protection, and the ability to file a counter-suit in Iceland against a party who engages in a calculated attempt to suppress the speech freedoms of an Icelandic entity. Inspired by legislation passed by the states of New York and Florida and proposed legislation elsewhere.

Statute of limitations on publishing liabilities
Recent rulings in Europe maintain that, for a internet publications, each page view is publication afresh, regardless of how long ago the material was first released. This has resulted in the silent removal of investigative newspaper stories, including those over five years old, from the on-line archives of the Guardian and and other major newspapers.

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