Iceland's free speech initiative improves upon US First Amendment exceptionalism

Kyu Ho Youm [Jonathan Marshall First Amendment Chair, School of Journalism and Communication, University of Oregon]: "The Icelandic Modern Media Initiative is a welcome development in the ongoing global movement for press freedom. It deserves serious attention from those who want to expand freedom of the press as a universal human right.

The Initiative should serve as a worthy benchmark on what ought to be minimally done to protect freedom of the press from various institutional and private constraints, whether real or perceived.

Most important, the Initiative is looking at press freedom more than as a passive concept. Access to information is a case in point.

To a considerable extent, the Initiative is borrowing from the 100-plus years of the US experience with freedom of speech and the press. Not surprising. But it goes far beyond the First Amendment "exceptionalism" of the United States. International and foreign laws are sometimes more proactive in press freedom than US law, and the US needs to learn from them. See, e.g., the journalistic source protection under European law.

The practical and immediate or long-term impact of the Initiative is an open question. Freedom of the press entails various choice of law and jurisdictional issues, especially when transnational media companies are involved.

Still, no one who knows about the perennial fragility of press freedom cannot and should not discount the Initiative's inspirational and aspirational vision for Iceland as a "haven" for freedom of the press.

This is all the more true now than ever. Consider the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative in connection with what Columbia University President Lee Bollinger eloquently expounds in his new book, UNINHIBITED, ROBUST, AND WIDE-OPEN: A Free Press for a New Century" (Oxford University Press, 2010)."

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