Sunday

25th Sep 2016

EU ministers clash on media libel and defamation rules

  • The media has up a fight against proposed new libel and defamation rules (Photo: Luxembourg EU Presidency)

EU justice ministers have agreed to halt far-reaching plans to establish common EU rules on cross-border disputes, following fears that parts of the law would violate freedom of expression.

The proposed law aims to define which national law applies in disputes where individuals or companies from different countries are involved, including non-EU member states.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

However, ministers meeting in Brussels on Tuesday (21 February) decided to postpone the law after it became clear that unanimous agreement would not be possible.

"In the future we need rules in this area, but we need time to come up with a more sensible proposal," justice commissioner Franco Frattini.

According to the proposal tabled by the commission, the law in the country in which the alleged damage occurred would bear the law.

Damages concerning, for example, a traffic accident would be heard in the country where the accident took place, with the possibility of bringing the dispute to the victim’s home country if both parties agree.

The commission argues that that this common principle would prevent "shopping" for the most favourable legislation in cross-border disputes.

Media law

But Austrian justice minister Karin Gastinger said that EU ministers had failed to agree on this principle being applied to national liability laws for the media, dealing with defamation of private citizens, public figures or religious icons in the press.

A scenario emerged that journalists of a particular member state could be condemned for libelling or defamating an individual or a company according to laws applicable in another country, even one outside the EU.

This has been met with fierce resistance.

Media organisations, NGOs and politicians warned of damage to the principle of freedom of speech, arguing that a Swedish newspaper, for instance, could be sentenced according to Syrian or Pakistani law following a law suit on defamation from a citizen in either of these countries.

Critics also pointed out that an inconvenient practical consequence of the commission proposal would be that media in one country would be obliged to have knowledge of all other countries' media laws - which would be impossible to oversee.

Representatives from various media organisations across the EU have lobbied to have defamation and libel cases ruled according to the editors' home country.

Revised version

Mr Frattini said he would soon propose a revised version of the regulation, with the article on media freedom excluded from the package.

"If we retained it, it would mean a very long delay, and we are making a lot of progress on other areas," he said.

He added that the issue would not be swept under the carpet, only that it needed more time.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. GoogleBringing Education to Refugees in Lebanon With the Clooney Foundation for Justice
  2. HuaweiAn Industry-leading ICT Solution Provider and Building a Better World
  3. World VisionUN Refugees Meeting a Wasted Opportunity to Improve the Lives of Millions of Children
  4. Belgrade Security ForumCan Democracy Survive Global Disorder?
  5. YouthProAktivEntrepreneurship, Proactivity, Innovation - Turn Ideas Into Action #IPS2016
  6. GoogleTrimming the Waste-Line: Weaving Circular Economy Principles Into Our Operations
  7. Crowdsourcing Week EuropeDon't Miss the Mega Conference to Master Crowdsourcing, Crowdfunding and Innovation! 10% Discount Code CSWEU16
  8. Martens CentreFighting Terrorism: Do we have what it takes? 26 September, Brussels
  9. ACCAKaras Report on Access to Finance for SMEs in a Capital Markets Union
  10. Centre Maurits Coppieters"I still believe we can change Europe" Said David Grosclaude
  11. World VisionThe Child Protection Index to be Launched in Brussels on 28 September 2016
  12. HuaweiDigital Transformation: Unleashing Europe’s Potential