The European Commission has revealed groundbreaking legislation that will to protect journalists and citizens from abusive lawsuits designed to silence them, like Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP).
It promises to introduce several procedural safeguards and remedies, such as compensation for damages, and dissuasive penalties for launching abusive lawsuits.
Member states will also be encouraged to follow the new law for domestic cases in all proceedings, while also providing training and building awarness to comabt SLAPPs.
SLAPPs (Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation) have become an increasingly growing phenomenon around Europe, including Malta. They have the specific aim of silencing the defendant by subjecting the person to lengthy, burdensome and expensive lawsuits, often in another jurisdiction.
SLAPPs create an imbalance between parties and have a chilling effect on freedom of expression, resulting in impinging on the respondent’s right to a fair trial.
The law is the result of work conducted by now-EP President Roberta Metsola, who led a drive for the major issue to be addresed.
“After four years of hard work, it is immensely gratifying to see significant progress on press freedom in Europe,” Maltese MEP David Casa said.
“I am pleased to see that what the Commission is proposing is exactly what we have been campaigning for. We are seeing libel tourism being addressed, which currently allows businesses to sue small media houses in jurisdictions with much heftier fines. And the Directive will also foresee dissuasive penalties for abusive practices”.
“When this issue came to the fore in Malta, it was seen as a complex issue that involved aspects of human rights and private international law. It is a sign of success that we mobilised support on a European level.”
“We now have a working solution on the table that will bolster protections for journalists, especially those working on public interest investigations against those corrupt entities and governments with deeper pockets and more resources than entire news agencies.”
The law will not only apply to journalists but will also extend to activities and any person engaging in public participation that deals with the public interest.
Unfounded court proceedings will be subject to early dismissals and it will be upon the claimant to prove they are not so. Damages and penalties will be applied to prevent abusive cases.
People will also be protected from judgements that take place in a non-EU country against people who lived in a member state.
The proposed Directive will now be negotiated and adopted by the European Parliament and the Council before it can become EU law.
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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