The Malta Independent 22 September 2018, Saturday

MEPs stress need to protect journalists while Maltese government is slammed

Kevin Schembri Orland Wednesday, 13 June 2018, 17:19 Last update: about 4 months ago

A press conference held by MEPs from a number of EU political parties stressed the need to protect journalists and the need to create EU-wide anti-SLAPP legislation, while the Maltese government was also slammed over the SLAPP issues locally

Malta was brought up in a European Parliamentary press conference, yet again not in the best of lights, due to the threats of SLAPP lawsuits in Malta. The Maltese government refused to introduce anti-SLAPP legislation when the opportunity arose.

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Justice Minister Owen Bonnici had said that an anti-SLAPP amendment which had been presented by the Opposition on a local bill went directly against EU legislation, yet this analysis has now been deemed to be wrong directly by the EU Commission. The minister had said that he is not an expert in the field, and four expert opinions he obtained expressed reservations about its impact in practice, and he is therefore following that advice. He had said that all of them agreed that EU directives, specifically the judgments regulation, clearly state that a member state must recognise a sentence laid within another member state or any state that forms part of the Lugano Convention (Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden, Iceland.)

Today however, the European Commission said that it is possible to prevent the enforcement of SLAPP judgments in other jurisdictions on the basis of public policy. It said that an EU member state has a right to legislate against SLAPP originating in a jurisdiction outside the EU.

MEPs from different political parties today held a press conference over the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia and threats to journalists.

PN MEP David Casa highlighted that the Greek court appeal decision on Maria Efimva is set to be taken tomorrow, and expressed his hope that her life will be protected by her extradition not being allowed.

Casa said he would never forget the anger he felt when Pilatus bank sent threatening letters to media houses. He said Daphne Caruana Galizia was the target of this abuse, and that when she was killed, she did not know Pilatus had instituted a multi-million dollar lawsuit against her in the USA.

He said mounting a defence in the USA would be financially crippling for journalists, adding that for a time Pilatus did succeed. He said such practices have no place in the EU.

S&D MEP Ana Gomes spoke of bringing about EU anti-SLAPP legislation. She said that she was very shocked to hear that the Caruana Galizia family are now facing libel cases by many political actors including the Prime Minister, and that some of these actors gave the green light for slapps in other jurisdictions against Daphne Caruana Galizia.

She spoke of the need to investigate the links between all the companies and lawyers associations lending themselves to intimidate journalists and bloggers trying to expose the truth about criminal cases.

Another MEP, Monica Macovei said that standing for justice means taking the highest risk. She said that she believes that investigative journalists will be the ones to find out the murderers not the authorities.

She expressed support to investigative journalists.

She said that it is their duty to protect journalists. “EU legislation does not prohibit anti-SLAPP legislation, so what the Maltese authorities said that anti-SLAPP provisions are against EU law is not true. EU law is not on the criminal’s side and we will continue to fight for anti-SLAPP legislation. In the mean time we created a monitoring group for all slap cases.”

Another MEP, Maite Pagazaurtundúa said that whistleblowers are a crucial source for investigative journalism, and appealed to the European Commission to urgently present anti-SLAPP legislation.

Jurgen Balzan, from the Shift News, was present at the press conference, and spoke. He said that the threat of SLAPP lawsuits put them at risk of closing down, and said that such action would be the end of such a small media organisation. He said that the fact that Henley and partners told MEPs that they still haven’t decided what to do with this legal action feels like a guillotine waiting to drop, “as one fine day they might wake up and decide to take action, so we don’t know when they will do it. It takes away the serenity, the peace of mind needed to do our job. Silencing journalists in Malta and other countries through SLAPP action does not only have an effect in national territory.  If we are stopped from investigating those being granted Maltese citizenship, then the rest of Europe will not know who is receiving EU citizenship. If we stop investigating money laundering in Malta, then it will have serious implications in the fight against criminality across Europe. “

Sarah Clarke from PEN International spoke about how serious and egregious abuse of defamation laws are in the EU. She said foreign government use lack of EU directives on SLAPP lawsuits to continue their oppression.

She spoke of the need to point to the EU as a leader in anti-SLAPP legislation. She spoke of the costs of SLAPP litigation as being prohibitive to journalists, many of whom cant challenge such cases She said that London based firms in particular take cases on behalf of wealthy companies and individuals against investigative journalists and that this is part of a trend called reputation laundering. 

She spoke of the chilling effect of SLAPP legislation. She mentioned that smaller papers in the UK, especially local papers would print grovelling apologies even with evidence backing their truthful story given the crippling costs associated with just fighting such cases.

She stressed the need for EU anti-Slapp legislation.

An EU representative for Committee to Protect Journalists said they have raised anti-SLAPP legislation with the EU commission, and the need to address financial threats journalists face. The representative said that the 2019 elections means that this issue should remain on the agenda and that the Commission should not stop following this. The representative said that SLAPP clashes with EU treaty values.

 

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