The Malta Independent 22 February 2018, Thursday

TMID Editorial: SLAPP - When propagandists defend oppressive tactics

Friday, 9 February 2018, 11:16 Last update: about 13 days ago

It is truly a sad day when people in the media work against the interest of journalists.

We purposely make a distinction between journalists and people in the media because party propagandists and apologists should not be considered as part of the former category.

Daphne’s murder initially brought media people together in a rare show of unity. But the assassination also served to further expose the divide that exists between members of the press in Malta, not just in the political side that some of them choose to cling on to, but also the way they reason things out.

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Like other independent media houses, this one was a couple of months back threatened with a multi-million dollar lawsuit in the US by Pilatus Bank. We had explained in an editorial that while we stood by our stories, the threat was just too big, the risk too great.

The expenses that we would have incurred on travel and to engage lawyers in the US and the UK could have led this company to financial ruin.

This is SLAPP in action – the threat of a financially ruinous lawsuit in another jurisdiction where winning the case would still result in exorbitant fees, and losing it would lead to disaster.

PN MP Jason Azzopardi recently presented a Private Member’s Bill that seeks to protect journalists from such drastic legal action, by banning the execution in Malta of any judgment against Maltese media given abroad. 

Practically all journalists and media people in Malta agree with the proposed Bill, which would only serve to strengthen the press.

Incredulously, a TVM presenter came out saying that he did not agree with the proposed bill – that if journalists are saying the truth they should have no trouble going to the US to fight it out in court.

In a clear show that he does not even understand basic legal concepts, Brian Hansford argued that if a journalist wins a defamation case brought against them they can be awarded millions in damages. This is simply not the case. In order to be awarded damages the journalists would need to file a civil case. And that means more and more expenses.

We do not agree with Hansford’s daily partisan Facebook rants, most of which are aimed at Russian whistleblower Maria Efimova. We feel that such behaviour should not be accepted from a presenter who hosts a show on national television.

But we take greater exception with his views on SLAPP suits. We can never understand how someone in the media would have the gall to say that such form of abuse and media silencing should continue. How someone who might someday end up at the receiving on of such a threat, play things down and give the impression that fighting a legal battle in the US – with all the travel that that would involve – is akin to going to the grocer’s for some eggs and milk.

Defending yourself against such a threat, even with a 100% foolproof and researched story, is no walk in the park.

We hope that no other Maltese is faced with this oppressive tactic, and that the government wakes up from its slumber and supports measures that seek to protect press freedom instead of colluding with foreigners to cripple Maltese media houses.

 

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