The Malta Independent 30 July 2021, Friday

TMID Editorial: SLAPP lawsuits - Time for action

Tuesday, 22 June 2021, 12:03 Last update: about 2 months ago

It was great to hear that EU institutions are taking the issue of SLAPP lawsuits seriously, and seem to be working on ways to tackle this issue. 

Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP) are aimed at chilling free speech. It is when a corporation or individual would file a lawsuit in a foreign jurisdiction or using overly prohibitive court procedures against journalists or activists in order to try and silence them through exorbitantly high legal costs to fight such court cases. 

ADVERTISEMENT

The issue was brought up during a Webinar organised by the European Commission Representation in Malta in collaboration with The Malta Independent. 

During the webinar, Roberta Metsola - who is also one of the rapporteurs on SLAPP legislation in the EU Parliament - said that binding regulations when it comes to SLAPP suits are in the pipeline for the European Union as a whole.

Malta has seen its fair share of threats of such suits. One of the more well-known cases revolves around SLAPP lawsuit threats against Daphne Caruana Galizia, when she was still alive.

Metsola said, among other things, that foreign models are being looked at and, at the same time, added training for judges and funds for journalists and activists targeted by SLAPP suits are also likely to be presented as part of the solution.

Such lawsuits, aside for being so costly that some media companies or activists would not even be able to launch a defence of their writings or statements due to overly high court expenses abroad, also have a chilling effect. Investigative journalists are particularly prone to such attacks. Such a chilling effect could mean that activists and journalists might keep silent when they see wrongdoings, out of fear of such retribution.

A solution must be found to stop such abusive legal techniques.

European Commission Vice President Vera Jourova also spoke of the work in progress relating to SLAPP law suits. “The inspiration for this in Malta was the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was facing several SLAPP suits which was shocking and which requires a solution at a European level.”

It was also good to hear Maltese Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis say: “We are in favour of more SLAPP regulations.”

He went on to speak about the importance of enforcement of foreign judgements and the need for a binding framework and regulation at an EU-level.

The EU needs to stand up for its journalists and for freedom of speech on this issue. It is something that has not yet been tackled, but in order to ensure a truly independent and free press, the issue of SLAPP lawsuits needs to be addressed, sooner rather than later.

There are of course other issues threatening journalists that need to be tackled, amongst which are attacks on journalists. We must never forget that what happened in Malta, to Daphne Caruana Galizia, was the murder of a mother, a wife, a journalist and was an attack on free speech itself.

  • don't miss