The European Parliament has passed a landmark resolution today, calling on the European Commission to propose legislation that would make the protection of whistleblowers obligatory for all member states.
Whereas the Whistleblowers Act in the United States was made into federal law in 1989, the protection of journalists and whistleblowers in Europe remains up to the Member States to uphold in accordance with European Union values.
Through today’s resolution, MEPs are also calling to introduce pan-European anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) rules which would stop entities from strategically using foreign jurisdictions to bring lawsuits against individuals with huge financial damages in an attempt to silence and intimidate. The movement to include anti-SLAPP procedures in Malta was not supported by Justice Minister Owen Bonnici earlier this month when he voted against an amendment proposed by Opposition MP Jason Azzopardi, which called for this type of protection.
Maltese MEP Roberta Metsola voted in favour of the resolution on behalf of the centre-right European People’s Party.
“We are trying to address different threats to the free media be they financial, intimidation or security threats,” Metsola said earlier this week. “That’s why we have introduced the idea of EU funds to safeguard independent journalism and spoken about having anti-SLAPP legislation passed. Journalism is crucial for any democracy and we have to respond to what media houses and journalists are telling us.”
The current context
The murder of Slovak investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his partner Martina Kušnírová in February is the fifth case of a journalist being murdered in an EU Member State in the past 10 years, and the second murder of an investigative journalist working on the Panama Papers in the EU following the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia last October.
The European Parliament resolution put forward today is based upon the respect for the rule law, democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms – the same values and obligations which are enshrined in the EU Treaties. Of such values is the principle that free, independent and unhindered media constitute one of the cornerstones of a democratic society and Member States have the duty to ensure that press freedom and journalists are protected on their territory.
But why’s that?
The protection of journalists and their sources varies between Member States, and most do not include providing effective protection against retaliation, defamation charges, threats, intimidating lawsuits or other negative consequences. The resolution claims that there are discrepancies between the adequacy of protection offered by different Member States to journalists and the hostility displayed towards them by some public figures undermines their basic freedoms.
In today’s plenary meeting, MEPs voted for a resolution which, amongst other things:
1. Encourages both the Commission and the Member States to present legislative or non-legislative proposals for the protection of journalists in the EU who are regularly subject to lawsuits intended to censor their work or intimidate them
2. Calls on the Commission to create a permanent financial support scheme including a dedicated budget to support independent investigative journalism.
3. Calls on the European Council to work with participating Member States in setting up the European Public Prosecutor’s Office as soon as possible, to counter fraud and other crimes affecting the European Union’s financial interests.
4. Calls on the European Commission to resume its annual anti-corruption monitoring in all Member States.