Does New Icelandic Media Law Protect Kids From Obscene Content?

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Last year, Iceland passed the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative, a series of laws to protect journalism and free speech. Iceland's parliament just passed another media law to protect children from 'obscene content.' (Credit: Ice News, Screen shot detail)

Iceland’s parliament has adopted a new media law for the first time since 2004.

The law includes provisions to prevent children from seeing “obscene content,” establishes a media committee, and calls on broadcasters to be licensed.  But, Iceland’s national public radio and TV station, RUV, isn’t included in the law’s jurisdiction.

iMediaEthics wrote to Iceland’s parliament, the Althingi, for more information. Elfa Yr Gylfadóttir, the head of Education, Science and Culture ministry’s the media division, responded to our inquiries with more information about the law.

RUV doesn’t have to follow the new law because Iceland’s government has a “special law on RUV,” Gylfadóttir wrote in an e-mail to iMediaEthics.  But, in the fall, the minister of education, science and culture will be propose a bill into Parliament to amend RUV’s law.

According to Gylfadóttir, the law incorporates directives from the European Union’s Audiovisual Media Services directive, updates Iceland’s 2000 broadcasting law and 1956 press law, and establishes the media committee. Provisions from the EU’s directive make up about 75% of the law, Gylfadóttir wrote.

For example, the provisions about keeping obscene content from children come from the EU’s directive,  Gylfadóttir wrote.  That directive bans any “content which might seriously impair minors” from TV and adds restrictions to that content’s availability in on-demand outlets.  If content “is likely to impair minors,” TV outlets must air it at times when minors “will not normally hear or see such broadcasts,” but there are “no restrictions” for on-demand outlets. (Read more here).

Blogs and social media aren’t included in the law’s definition of “media.”   As Gylfadóttir explained to StinkyJournalism:

“Media is defined as any medium which delivers edited content to the public on a regular basis, which the main purpose is to provide media content. This includes broadcasting media, press media and certain types of electronic media, but excludes blogs and social media.”

In addition, the law establishes a media committee “to mediate between the media, the public and government” and has jurisdiction over both print and broadcast, EditorsWeblog reported. Gylfadóttir described to iMediaEthics that the commitee is “a form of independent regulatory body.”

The media committee will be made up of five government-appointed members who have media or journalism expertise or background, Gylfadóttir explained. The Supreme Court nominates two of the five members, Iceland’s journalists union nominates one.  The other members are nominated by the universities and the government.

Gylfadóttir likened the media authority to the UK’s Ofcom, an independent regulator for UK’s “communications industries”.

According to IceNews, about 2,000 people are petitioning for the law to be reneged.  Since Iceland already is considered one of the leading countries in protecting press freedom, the law’s opponents have reportedly suggested that the law and committee isn’t necessary.

The Los Angeles Times noted that Iceland’s media legislation has created an “international sanctuary for free speech.”

Iceland is one of the top countries on Reporters without Borders’ 2010 press freedom ranking, tied with Finland, Norway, the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland.

In its May 2010 report announcing the rankings, Reporters without Borders called the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative “an exemplary bill.”

As iMediaEthics reported, WikiLeaks and Julian Assange backed the IMMI and Assange helped work on the laws.  According to The New American, he was “instrumental in pushing” and advising on the legislation.

The IMMI, which Iceland’s parliament passed last year, guards Iceland’s media from libel tourism, according to the European Journalism Centre.  Read more about Iceland’s media legislation on the EJC’s website here.

IMMI also is an institution called the International Modern Media Institute, which is a non-profit foundation backing the initiative’s suggested changes.

On the foundation’s board of directors is Icelandic parliament member Birgitta Jonsdottir, who also has been a WikiLeaks volunteer.  Jonsdottir is one of the WikiLeaks volunteers and supporters whose Twitter account information was subpoenaed by the U.S. Department of Justice.

iMediaEthics has written to IMMI for comment. We will update with any response.

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Does New Icelandic Media Law Protect Kids From Obscene Content?

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