Monday

4th Jul 2022

MEPs seek EU law on bogus anti-media litigation

  • Malicious lawsuits known as Slapps are being used to silence critical journalists (Photo: Marco Fieber)
Listen to article

MEPs at committee level are seeking greater protection against lawsuits aimed at silencing and intimidating journalists and civil society.

On Thursday (14 October), they voted through a report urging the European Commission to come up with a proposal to curtail so-called strategic lawsuits against public participation (Slapps).

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

Roberta Metsola, a centre-right European Parliament vice-president from Malta, said this would include creating an EU fund to support Slapp victims.

"The key issue here is balance. We are targeting those who abuse our legal systems to silence or intimidate," she said in a statement.

The report attracted 63 votes for, nine against, and 10 abstentions.

The vote came as reporters behind the Pegasus revelations of government phone-snooping won the first Daphne Caruana Galizia Prize, named after a Maltese investigative journalist murdered in late 2017 for her reporting.

Caruana Galizia had at least 47 civil and criminal defamation lawsuits against her at the time of her assassination.

The committee report highlights the lack of anti-Slapp legislation in EU states, which exist elsewhere like the United States and Canada.

It noted that in the EU, Slapps "are often meritless, frivolous or based on exaggerated claims".

They are not designed to win court cases, but rather as a show of force, it said.

"The key feature of Slapps is their tendency to transfer debate from the political to the legal sphere," said an EU parliament study, noting that such intimidation tactics hindered free press and free speech to the advantage of the powerful.

It means critical media and NGOs in the EU are more likely to face such lawsuits than in other world regions.

EUobserver, for instance, was recently sued by a Belgian millionaire and an Iraqi billionaire over stories about shady Russian links to EU institutions' private-jet leasing and a disinformation campaign against Caruana Galizia.

It is also being threatened with a lawsuit by Lilya Lukashenko, the Belarusian president's daughter-in-law.

Notable cases against other media have also been lodged in Bulgaria, Belgium, France, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Romania , Slovenia, and Spain.

Last year, the Slovenian investigative news outlet Necenzurirano was hit with 39 Slapp lawsuits.

At least 13 of those lawsuits were filed by Rok Snežić, a tax expert and unofficial financial advisor to Slovenian prime minister Janez Janša.

And Janša himself is known for personally intimidating reporters online.

The European Parliament committee's report came with some 430 amendments. The draft will now go to a plenary vote in November amid demands the European Commission also comes up with a directive to ensure Slapps don't erode free expression and rule of law.

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.

EU law needed to protect free press, NGOs say

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.

Romanian PM wades into '€20m fine for journalists' row

Prime minister Viorica Dancila told EUobserver that Romania's constitution guarantees freedom of expression for journalists - but insisted EU data protection rules must be respected. Her comments follow threats to impose a €20m fine on a group of investigative reporters.

EU to open up 'black box' of political ads

Paid political ads will have to show how much was spent on the ad, the sources of funds, the name of the sponsor. "Without providing this information, political advertisement will be illegal," commission vice-president Věra Jourová said.

More transparency on EU media owners planned for 2022

The commission vice-president Vera Jourova highlighted Hungary, Poland, Slovenia and France - where developments in the media market have caused concern, and admitted the "state of the media in EU is not good".

Opinion

Nato's Madrid summit — key takeaways

For the most part Nato and its 30 leaders rose to the occasion — but it wasn't without room for improvement. The lesson remains that Nato still doesn't know how or want to hold allies accountable for disruptive behaviour.

Column

One rubicon after another

We realise that we are living in one of those key moments in history, with events unfolding exactly the way Swiss art historian Jacob Burckhardt describes them: a sudden crisis, rushing everything into overdrive.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers write to EU about new food labelling
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEmerging journalists from the Nordics and Canada report the facts of the climate crisis
  4. Council of the EUEU: new rules on corporate sustainability reporting
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers for culture: Protect Ukraine’s cultural heritage!
  6. Reuters InstituteDigital News Report 2022

Latest News

  1. ECB announces major green shift in corporate bond-buying
  2. Ex-Frontex chief 'uninvited' from parliament committee
  3. Czech presidency and key nuclear/gas vote This WEEK
  4. The human rights aspects of Grenoble's 'burkini' controversy
  5. Council must act on core of EU migration package
  6. Nato's Madrid summit — key takeaways
  7. Czech presidency to fortify EU embrace of Ukraine
  8. Covid-profiting super rich should fight hunger, says UN food chief

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us