Prime Minister Robert Abela has confirmed the government is looking into the possibility of granting journalists financial assistance to combat lawsuits overseas.
“We want to present an anti-SLAPP law,” Abela told a press conference today, referring to lawsuits intended to silence people by burdening them with the cost of extremely expensive legal defences.
“In principle I guarantee you that the government is completely in favour of anti-SLAPP legislation. The only issue we’ve faced when discussing it is whether we can introduce this law without it being in conflict with other laws, such as the laws regulating court procedures, particularly with regards to recognition of sentences given by foreign courts.”
“Not only am I determined to move in that direction, and our law already has a number of safeguards in place, but I also want to be at the forefront of introducing anti-SLAPP laws.”
He said ongoing discussions include whether the state should offer journalists financial assistance to help them combat these lawsuits, which he warned are filed to “coerce them into submission”.
“I won’t allow anyone to try and intimidate journalists,” he said.
“We must allow journalists to do their job. The fourth estate has an important role to scrutinise politicians and we cannot allow this sword of Damocles to remain hanging over their heads.”
Several journalists in Malta have faced SLAPP suits in recent years, including assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was sued in Arizona for defamation by Pilatus Bank five months before her murder.
Pilatus Bank was yesterday fined €5 million by the FIAU for serious breaches of anti-money laundering legislation.
Emails also show that Caruana Galizia murder suspect Yorgen Fenech was planning to file a £20 million lawsuit in the UK against journalist Manuel Delia and PN MEP David Casa.
A public inquiry board which found the state culpable of creating a culture of impunity that facilitated Caruana Galizia’s murder recently proposed anti-SLAPP legislation among several recommendations to help the media industry.
Nationalist MPs Jason Azzopardi, Robert Cutajar and David Agius proposed a private members’ bill to combat SLAPP back in 2018 but it has yet to be discussed in Parliament.
Meanwhile, PN MEP Roberta Metsola and other MEPs have proposed an EU-wide fund to help victims of abusive lawsuits as part of a wider European framework to combat SLAPP lawsuits.
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