Monday

4th Mar 2024

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.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Get the EU news that really matters

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

... or subscribe as a group

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.

EU Commission clears Poland's access to up to €137bn EU funds

The European Commission has legally paved the way for Poland to access up to €137bn EU funds, following Donald Tusk's government's efforts to strengthen the independence of their judiciary and restore the rule of law in the country.

Latest News

  1. EU socialists fight battle on two fronts in election campaign
  2. EU docks €32m in funding to UN Gaza agency pending audit
  3. 'Outdated' rules bar MEP from entering plenary with child
  4. Commission plays down row over Rwanda minerals pact
  5. EU socialists set to anoint placeholder candidate
  6. Why are the banking lobby afraid of a digital euro?
  7. Deepfake dystopia — Russia's disinformation in Spain and Italy
  8. Putin's nuclear riposte to Macron fails to impress EU diplomats

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic Food Systems Takeover at COP28
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersHow women and men are affected differently by climate policy
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersArtist Jessie Kleemann at Nordic pavilion during UN climate summit COP28
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP28: Gathering Nordic and global experts to put food and health on the agenda
  5. Friedrich Naumann FoundationPoems of Liberty – Call for Submission “Human Rights in Inhume War”: 250€ honorary fee for selected poems
  6. World BankWorld Bank report: How to create a future where the rewards of technology benefit all levels of society?

Join EUobserver

EU news that matters

Join us