EU finally moves on law to protect media from legal abuse (SLAPPs)

April 28, 2022

I have devoted posts to this important issue before [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/strategic-lawsuits-against-public-participation-slapps/]. Let us not forget that Daphne Caruana Galizia was facing 40 lawsuits when she was murdered. See: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/70b0bee4-9af2-40c6-a11e-5b9ad159b96f

Andrew Rettman writing in the EUObserver of 27 April 2022

Independent media should have less to fear in future from malicious lawsuits, after the EU Commission put forward a new law to shield them.

Billionaires, big corporations, and autocrats have, in recent years, resorted ever more frequently to so-called strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs) in order to try to gag adversaries.

But if EU states and MEPs back the commission’s proposed anti-SLAPP directive, then judges will soon get a fresh mandate to throw out bogus cases — and compensate their victims.

With these measures we are helping to protect those who take risks and speak up when the public interest is at stake,” EU values commissioner Věra Jourová said in Brussels.

We promised to defend better journalists and human rights defenders,” she said. “The new law does that,” Jourová said.

The directive lists criteria which individual judges can, using their discretion on a case-by-case basis, use to decide whether litigation is genuine or abusive.

These include seeking disproportionately huge financial damages or launching multiple cases at the same time, for instance.

The anti-SLAPP law applies to non-EU or “third” countries, giving European judges leeway to annul vexatious judgments against EU nationals if they are doled out in London, for example.

It is delimited to civil cases “with cross-border implication”. This is because EU competences do not cover national and criminal media laws in member states under the terms of Europe’s treaties. It means a Polish journalist or LGBTI rights activist, for example, who is sued by a Polish entity would normally not be covered.

But the “cross-border” element has been drafted by Jourová’s lawyers in a canny way so that if their case arguably had relevance beyond their national borders then the EU law would kick in.

EUobserver has faced three lawsuits in the past three years that were designated as SLAPPs by leading pro-free media NGOs.

The first saw a Luxembourg-based firm sue us in Belgium about an article on disinformation in Malta — an archetypal example of a “cross-border” lawsuit falling under the directive.

The second saw a Belgian firm sue EUobserver in Belgium, but as the story covered VIP-jet leasing security for EU and Nato heads of state from all over Europe this would also be covered under the cross-border clause.

The final one, which is ongoing, involves a Belarusian firm suing EUobserver in Belgium over an article about alleged money-laundering in Cyprus, but this would also likely fall under both the “third-country” and “cross-border” provisions, NGO experts told this website Wednesday in a flash analysis.

The commission “did the best it could do”, given its jurisdiction, Julie Majerczak, from the Paris-based NGO Reporters Without Borders, said. “It’s not perfect, but it’s a big step forward — two years ago we were nowhere on this,” she added…

There were at least 438 SLAPP cases in 24 member states in 2021 targeting 978 people or entities, the commission noted. Journalists in Bulgaria, Croatia, Poland, and Slovenia were being routinely targeted, Reporters Without Borders said. Journalists in Italy and environmental activists in France and Spain were also notable victims, it added.

https://euobserver.com/rule-of-law/154815

https://www.maltatoday.com.mt/news/europe/116496/brussels_unveils_groundbreaking_proposal_to_prevent_and_penalise_slapp_lawsuits_#.Ymqx_5LP1TZ

https://eutoday.net/news/human-rights/2022/slapps-european-commission-seeks-to-tackle-abusive-lawsuits-against-journalists-and-human-rights-defenders

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