Iceland – Green Acres for Journalists

If Iceland were a mortgaged home, it would be underwater.  No global warming jokes, please.  Iceland's banks were rabid, deregulated participants in the financial excesses of the last decade and suffered accordingly when the party ended.  Thanks to deposit insurance, much of this ended up in  the lap of Iceland's government.  The average Icelander's share of the national debt now exceeds Paris Hilton's annual credit card bill.  The resulting festivities included a near war with Great Britain, which treated the Icelanders like terrorists in the small matter of a dispute over frozen (again- no ice puns- final warning) accounts. Iceland's stock  market, currency and economy tanked, big time.

Iceland's first reaction to this was, of course, to get very mad.  It's coalition government collapsed in late January, with a new election scheduled for May. Besides getting mad the Icelanders did something very strange.  They pondered the situation and sought change.  Not just your everyday “let's regulate the banks” sort of change, but some truly outside the box thinking.    The crushing debt was the result of bank foolishness no one could understand and governmental support that involved risks no one ever explained to the voters.  The solution? The Modern Media Initiative – make Iceland a safe home for modern media.  Don't just regulate the banks, use journalists to make sure people know what's going on, and attract a new industry to boot.  Think what a boon this could be for the socially responsible investor, for any investor. The US has also heard some cries for greater transparency as a supplement to financial regulatory reform, but Iceland has really gone outside the box. 

How does Iceland seek to attract media business and achieve transparency? Protect Freedom of Information and Expression. Protect whistle blowers and journalist's sources.  Limit libel claims and  provide a haven from libel tourism – bonus point to Iceland and a sharp stick in the eye for Great Britain, a leading libel tourism destination.  Put every journalist on the government payroll -sorry, that last one wasn't really part of the Icelandic proposal (remember, Iceland is broke) but they did include a prize for freedom of expression.

Sadly, the libel protection won't work very well for a journalist or news organization with assets outside Iceland; ditto for protection of sources outside  Iceland;   Nonetheless, the notion of fostering transparency by supporting journalism is a fascinating concept when traditional journalism outlets are struggling to survive in the era of free everything on the Internet.  Although effective implementation is difficult without multinational action of some kind, I give Iceland credit for thinking, and honor Iceland with this song, to the tune of the theme from the sixties television show Green Acres.

Yes, Iceland is the place to be
Journalism is the life for me
Free speech spreading out,
so far and wide
Keep your Fleet Street
just put me at Fjord's side

New York
is where I'd rather stay
First Amendment has a lot to say
I just adore a Penthouse view (especially the centerfold)
Iceland, I love you,
but give me Park Avenue

Fresh Air
Times Square
You are mine, byline
Goodbye High Line
Iceland, We Are There


Photo Credit: Helgabj