April 4, 2011

Iceland May Offer Safety from Libel Tourism

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Iceland is poised to become a safe haven for investigative journalism. In a move that could counteract the United Kingdom’s libel tourism laws (see GIJN member Drew Sullivan’s report), Iceland’s parliament is considering a proposal that would include source protection and free speech.  The legislation, known as the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative, was drafted with input from Wikileaks, according to an account published by Neiman Journalism Lab.

The country has had experience with libel tourism. More than five years ago, Hannes Gissurarson — a professor of political science at the University of Iceland — was sued in Britain after making disparaging remarks about Jon Olafsson, an Icelandic businessman, during a 1999 speech, according to an article in the London Times. Extracts of the speech were posted on the university’s Web site, and in 2003, Olafsson sued, claiming that his reputation in Britain had been damaged by the professor’s remarks. The ensuing court battle cost the professor his home and legal fees of more than £150,000.

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