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Abusive SLAPPs And Libel Tourism Must End, MEPs Say In Ambitious Proposal Calling For Robust Fund For Victims

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A robust EU fund could be put in place for victims of abusive lawsuits aimed at silencing journalists, activists, and others, an ambitious proposal from MEPs, including Malta’s Roberta Metsola, has proposed. 

It also aims to put an end to libel tourism and forum shopping from those looking to intimidate, harass, tire out, put psychological pressure on or consume the financial resources of those trying to hold them to account. 

Referencing reports on assassinated journalists Daphne Caruana Galizia and Jan Kuciak, the former of whom faced 47 libel cases at the time of her murder, the ambitious proposal is an EU-first, calling for an end to the clear attempts to either delay, halt, or distort crucial information.

The EU, unlike the United States, Australia and Canada, does not have well-developed anti-SLAPP legislation. Currently, Member States lack harmonised minimum standards to protect victims. The MEPs believe that the countries could be great templates for the EU and underlines the importance of committing to the ambitious legislation.  

“The ultimate objective is blackmailing and forcing them into silence through the judicial procedure itself… this chilling effect can lead to self-censorship, suppressing participation in democratic life, and also discourages others from similar actions, from entering into these professions or from proceeding with relevant associated activities,” the draft reads.

Malta, whose media houses and journalists have faced SLAPP lawsuits for reporting on Pilatus Bank and Electrogas’ Turab Musayev, has given mixed signals on its willingness to combat SLAPP. While the government has criticised the practice, it has twice shot down attempts by the PN to solve the issue. 

Abusive lawsuits and libel tourism is jeopardising EU law and must be stopped.

The MEPs are calling on the Commission to present concrete proposals to ensure that defamation, libel and slander, cannot be used for SLAPPs. Meanwhile, the draft also adds that the decriminalisation of defamation should also be a priority. 

It also said that work must be done to ensure that abusive lawsuits that are jeopardising EU law are put to an end. 

When it comes to civil matters, the report urges the Commission to develop a measure that fosters judicial cooperation on cross-border SLAPP, setting out clear rules on the dismissal of abusive lawsuits.

This, the MEPs said, should include sanctions and consider the abusive motives of the lawsuit. Notably, it calls on the Commission to address major issues surrounding forum shopping and libel tourism in a forthcoming review of the Brussels I Rome II Regulations.

It says that legislative action must be introduced, especially through uniform rules for defamation – as well as binding legislation that will harmonise effective safeguards for SLAPP victims. 

Robust fund needed for SLAPP victims.

The draft proposal also calls for the urgent need for a robust fund to support victims of SLAPP, who would also require easily accessible information about these types of cases, legal aid, and the support on offer. 

This would allow funds to be made available for independent bodies to hear complaints as well as provide assistance to potential victims and additional training to judges and lawyers to build stronger tools to combat SLAPPs. 

The MEPs are also calling for a mechanism that would help collect data on the issue and create reports to increase awareness.

The draft proposal also calls for the urgent need for a robust fund to support victims of SLAPP, who would also require easily accessible information about these types of cases, legal aid, and the support on offer. 

This would allow funds to be made available for independent bodies to hear complaints as well as provide assistance to potential victims and additional training to judges and lawyers to build stronger tools to combat SLAPPs. 

The MEPs are also calling for a mechanism that would help collect data on the issue and create reports to increase awareness.

Journalists, academics, NGOs, and civil society must be safeguarded.

The report calls for the adoption of a legal framework that will protect the role of journalists, academics, civil society and NGOs – specifically calling on the Commission to present a proposal to safeguard people who are investigating and reporting on matters of public interest. 

Ultimately, the MEPs say, the proposals will help ensure the proper function of the internal market – since it protects public participation by exposing corruption and other distortions.

This article is part of a content series called Ewropej. This is a multi-newsroom initiative part-funded by the European Parliament to bring the work of the EP closer to the citizens of Malta and keep them informed about matters that affect their daily lives. This article reflects only the author’s view. The European Parliament is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.

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Julian is the Editor at Lovin Malta with a particular interest in politics, the environment, social issues, and human interest stories.

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