Sanctions could be issued against people who abuse SLAPP – Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation – to silence journalists, an ambitious proposal by the members of the European Parliament is suggesting.
In a meeting with journalists, MEPs Roberta Metsola (EPP) and Tiemo Wölken (S&D) outlined a raft of measures designed to curtail the oppressive legal practice. SLAPPs are lawsuits that are filed in foreign jurisdictions with catastrophic financial implications for media houses and journalists.
The MEPs also propose training for judiciaries across all member states to deal with SLAPP and other vexatious lawsuits effectively. Under the directive, judges and magistrates will also be given more powers to dismiss the cases.
Meanwhile, a support centre for journalists will also be set up to provide crucial advice to reporters facing devastating lawsuits.
Hopefully, a final draft will be presented by the end of June, with a plenary session coming in October.
“Freedom for journalists to do their job cannot be uncoupled from democracy. Protecting journalists means protecting our way of life”, Metsola said.
However, the pair were cautious about optimism for the directive to become a reality, facing an uphill battle to convince certain member states – who may not fully appreciate the complexities small countries, like Malta’s face, when dealing with such lawsuits.
“[There is pushback] from especially those covering up lies and horrific crimes and employing PR firms to manage reputations,” Metsola said.
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.
Wölken conceded that the EU was entering unchartered territory with the proposed directive, noting that there is little basis for legislation within individual member states.
He said that the ultimate goal of the proposal would be to achieve minimum standards, revise laws, and introduce financial support and other initiatives for journalists.
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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