Prime Minister Joseph Muscat with Henley & Partners chairman Christian Kalin
Prompted by threats of crippling legal action abroad by Pilatus Bank and Henley & Partners to several Maltese media houses, a cross-party group of MEPs has proposed EU legislation intended to clamp down on so-called ‘SLAPP’s – libel cases intended to silence journalists by burdening them with exorbitant legal expenses.
The proposal states that journalists faced with such lawsuits within the EU should be allowed to request their expedient dismissal and to claim compensation. If firms resort to SLAPP lawsuits outside the EU, then the EU should be allowed to impose punitive fines on them. The MEPs are also proposing a SLAPP fund to help journalists with their legal fees, as well as an EU register that names and shames businesses that pursue these practices.
The proposal is being fronted by PN MEP David Casa (EPP), as well as by Ana Gomes (S&D), Monica Macovei (ECR), Maite Pagazaurtundúa (ALDE) Stelios Kouloglou (GUE) and Benedek Jávor (Greens).
David Casa is one of the MEPs behind this proposal
“SLAPPs are abusive, pose a threat to media freedom and has no place in the European Union,” the MEPs said. “SLAPP was used, for instance, against investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia and is now being used against Maltese media houses by firms associated with government corruption and the Panama Papers scandal that are threatening legal action in the United States.”
“In Malta we have seen that firms like Pilatus Bank and Henley & Partners that employ these practices, using American litigation, have succeeded in having stories altered or deleted completely from online archives. And investigative journalists are prevented from reporting further on corrupt practices out of fear of further legal action. But this is not just a Maltese problem.”
“In the UK, Appleby, the firm associated with the Paradise Papers, is using similar tactics against the Guardian and the BBC. The cross-border nature of investigative journalism as well as the tendency to pursue legal action in jurisdictions outside the EU that only have a tenuous connection with the parties justifies and requires an EU response.”
The proposal was backed by international organisations that defend the rights of journalists.
Thomas Gibson from the Committee to Protect Journalists stated: “SLAPP is a serious threat to journalism and media freedom. These sums of money are in no way proportionate. Independent journalists in Malta already face enormous challenges and restrictions. Critical journalism must not be stifled. In addition to pushing for full justice of the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, the Commission needs to address the climate in which investigative journalists work in the country.”
Jodie Ginsberg, CEO of Index on Censorship, said: “Having a media that is free to investigate corruption and abuse of power – and free to publish the results of those investigations – is fundamental to democracy. These vexatious law suits – deliberately aimed at preventing journalists from carrying out such work – must be stopped.”