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Iceland mulling plan to become 'haven' for journalism

REYKJAVIK, Iceland -- Hoping to make Iceland a global home for freedom of speech, lawmakers are asking the government this week to implement a journalist's dream package of legislation — promising a safe haven for reporters who want to dig deep, hit hard, and avoid being sued.

The idea has found traction with Icelanders after last year's devastating economic collapse, during which the public saw firsthand the drawbacks of a too-cosy relationship between government and media. The economic crisis itself was partly traced to corruption unearthed by reporters abroad, prompting calls for improving information access and protecting whistle-blowers.

“Being a really small country, especially after the financial crisis, we saw the world is connected — all intertwined,” said Birgitta Jonsdottir, one of the lawmakers behind the measures. “Our problems do not just affect us locally, they affect us globally.” Iceland's parliament will on Tuesday begin considering the measures, aimed at improving the Nordic nation's own transparency while also luring Internet-based media and data centers to use it as a base for investigative journalism.

Becoming a global home for freedom of speech would be a new role for Iceland, which in its 1,000 years of human settlement has been known as a hardy North Atlantic fishing outpost, an unlikely capitalist crusader — fueled by Viking confidence and easy credit — and most recently, an economic basket-case.

Amid the 2008 economic crash, investigative Web site WikiLeaks.org published internal documents on loans that had been made by Kaupthing Bank, one of several Icelandic banks that collapsed with the global crisis. The story shocked the nation of 320,000, and was among the factors leading to demands for more transparency in public institutions.

Iceland also has a long history in direct democracy, and thousands held angry protests against the pro-business government in late 2008, clattering pots and kitchen utensils in what some have called the “Saucepan Revolution.” The popular anger forced the government to resign. It was replaced after a national election by a coalition of Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir's pro-European Social Democrats and the Left Greens — both of which have lawmakers sympathetic to the media freedom project.

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