Monday

20th Sep 2021

EU law needed to protect free press, NGOs say

  • Journalists at an EU summit in Brussels, home to one of the world's largest international media corps (Photo: Peter Teffer)

More than 60 NGOs and media, including EUobserver, have signed a call for an EU-wide law to stop the rich and powerful from silencing critics with malicious litigation.

The practice, known as strategic lawsuits against public participation (Slapp), is on the rise in Europe.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

There were over 1,100 pending lawsuits in Croatia against journalists by politicians, public figures, and corporations at the end of 2019, for instance.

In Malta, the family of murdered journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia is still fighting more than 40 posthumous cases against her.

In France, Vincent Bolloré, a billionaire industrialist, has filed more than 20 Slapps against journalists and NGOs who tried to investigate his businesses in Africa.

And in Belgium, home to the EU institutions and one of the world's largest international press corps, the proliferation of lawsuits - including against EUobserver - has seen insurance firms decline to give journalists' trade unions collective protection against their members as a result.

"Pursued by law firms on behalf of powerful individuals and organisations who seek to avoid public scrutiny, their aim is to drain the target's financial and psychological resources and chill critical voices," the NGO and media groups said on Tuesday (1 December).

"EU-wide rules providing for strong and consistent protection against Slapp suits would mark a crucial step forward towards ending this abusive practice," they added.

"As democracy and the rule of law come increasingly under pressure ... an EU anti-Slapp directive [would] protect public watchdogs that help hold the powerful to account," they said.

The signatories included leading press-freedom groups, such as the Committee to Protect Journalists, The Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation, and Reporters Without Borders.

They also included NGOs the Civil Liberties Union for Europe, Greenpeace, Ilga-Europe, and Transparency International, as well as the Guardian media group and writers' union Pen International.

The call put forward a legal template of what an anti-Slapp EU law should look like.

It should mandate European courts to quickly dismiss patently malicious cases and fine abusers, it said.

It should also cover political commentary, satire, cartoons, protests, and calls for boycotts, it added.

The appeal came out two days before EU justice commissioner Věra Jourová was to publish a new "action plan" to help protect democracy in Europe.

The plan, due out on Thursday, is expected to mention Slapps, described by one EU source as a "hot subject" in the European Commission, which conducted a study of the problem earlier this year.

It is unclear if Jourová will promise a new EU anti-Slapp law at this stage, however.

But if she does not, then one alternative would be for pressure groups to target Belgium, or Brussels regional authorities, as a first step instead, according to British legal expert Alan Riley.

"The Brussels capital region [has] a huge media presence who need effective free-press protections," he told EUobserver.

And an anti-Slapp law here, "based on the US first amendment", which protects free speech, would create an island of press freedom in Europe as well as a model for other EU countries to follow, Riley said.

EUobserver under attack in wider battle for EU free press

If EU citizens want to know the truth, then journalists need protection from malicious litigation, as EUobserver joined the list of targets, over an article about the late Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Opinion

Hungary - how the government crippled the media

As president of a news organisation operating across Eurasia, I witnessed the reality of non-independent media in central Asia or in Vladimir Putin's Russia. Yet this trend is now becoming more commonplace in parts of the European Union.

Opinion

How Orbán killed a radio station

On Monday, yet another brick in the Hungary's democracy was removed, with the silencing of the Klubrádió station - with devastating implications for press freedom both in the country and the wider EU.

Stakeholder

Let Turkey's journalists report freely

According to IPI's figures, 79 journalists remain behind bars in Turkey. While this is down from a high of over 160 in 2018, the figure still makes Turkey one of the world's leading jailers of journalists.

Feature

Covid-hit homeless find Xmas relief at Brussels food centre

The Kamiano food distribution centre in Brussels is expecting 20 people every half hour on Christmas Day. For many, Kamiano is also more than that - a support system for those made homeless or impoverished.

Top court finds Hungary and Poland broke EU rules

EU tribunal said Hungary's legislation made it "virtually impossible" to make an asylum application. Restricting access to international protection procedure is a violation of EU rules.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNATO Secretary General guest at the Session of the Nordic Council
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCan you love whoever you want in care homes?
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNineteen demands by Nordic young people to save biodiversity
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable public procurement is an effective way to achieve global goals
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council enters into formal relations with European Parliament
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen more active in violent extremist circles than first assumed

Latest News

  1. MEPs suspect Gazprom manipulating gas price
  2. Fast fashion vs. climate - how 'repair & resell' is the new model
  3. Right of reply: Erik Bergkvist, S&D MEP and shadow rapporteur
  4. EU Commission blocks anti-fraud funds without explanation
  5. Centre-right MEPs abstain on gender-violence vote
  6. World off track to meet climate targets, despite Covid-19
  7. EU to call out Russian aggression at Kyiv summit
  8. EU urges member states to better protect journalists

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us