The Malta Independent 14 July 2024, Sunday
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Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder was a ‘wake-up call’ to create an anti-SLAPP directive

Bettina Borg Thursday, 3 June 2021, 13:15 Last update: about 4 years ago

The death of Daphne Caruana Galizia has served as a turning point to devise an anti-Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) directive, a myriad of speakers said at the European Parliament on Thursday.

The European Parliament's Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) gathered to discuss the ever-rising threat of SLAPPs on journalism, freedom of expression and pluralism. Additionally, a myriad of speakers and experts in the field put forward their anti-SLAPP proposals for the European Commission to consider.

SLAPPs are lawsuits aimed at causing a chilling effect on critical media by targeting them with high costs. This typically occurs through libel action in other jurisdictions that impose high libel fines and where court costs are prohibitive.

Malta has had a considerable history of SLAPP lawsuits in recent years. In 2017, many Maltese media houses were subjected to SLAPPs when Pilatus Bank threatened to sue the media houses in courts in the United Kingdom and the United States.

SLAPP lawsuits were also commonplace for Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was targeted with libel suits throughout her journalistic practice.

Vice-President for Values and Transparency of the Commission Věra Jourová, who opened the LIBE SLAPP debate in European Parliament, noted that Caruana Galizia's death was a “dramatic wake-up call” to protect journalists against abuse litigation.

Caruana Galizia’s son, Matthew Caruana Galizia, spoke during the debate on Thursday to share his mother’s experiences with these lawsuits.

“My family and I and the foundation we set up has been involved in SLAPP for the last few years, however our experience with these lawsuits goes back”, he says.

Daphne Caruana Galizia was facing more than 40 different lawsuits at the time of her death.

“I thought these lawsuits were a normal part of the harassment that a journalist has to endure”, Matthew Caruana Galizia said. “I now know that this is not something that any journalist has to endure”.

Most SLAPP lawsuits have the power to push journalists into silence, he continued.

“Journalists are so intimidated by the threat of defamation that they do not speak up about the threat itself”, he said.

Additionally, the excessive costs of the lawsuit may force the journalist’s employers to give up their backing.

To combat these SLAPP cases and drive the fight for freedom of expression, Caruana Galizia said that financially supporting journalists against libel cases is very positive, however what is urgently needed is for this abuse to stop completely.

Nationalist MEP Roberta Metsola, who served as rapporteur for the anti-SLAPP proposals, echoed Caruana Galizia’s call for journalists to be safeguarded, where she said that the proposals are aimed at “defending our principles and protecting journalists and all those that aspire to become journalists and fight for the truth”.

The other speakers in the debate also pressed for the EP to devise a clear anti-SLAPP directive, which will legally protect journalists from defamation cases. Suggestions for the directive included early dismissal of cases to avoid victims being dragged into the case for years and more awareness from judges to deal with cases effectively.

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