EU lawmakers push for better protection of media from ‘silencing’ lawsuits

They suggest creating an EU fund to support victims of SLAPPs

Photo: EP Roberta Metsola.

On Tuesday, MEPs from the committees on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) and Legal Affairs (JURI) debated how to better protect media and civil society organisations from so-called SLAPPs, which means strategic lawsuits against public participation, intended to silence or intimidate them. 

Since 2018, MEPs have been calling for legislation in this field on strengthening democracy and media freedom and pluralism in the EU.

Roberta Metsola, (EPP, MT), rapporteur on the file, commented that lawsuits are precisely aimed at silencing especially small media houses and individuals who are fighting to find the truth.

She recalled that this Parliament has long called for concrete moves to be done against actions that aimed at silencing journalists, civil society and NGOs from finding out the truth.

The LIBE rapporteur stressed that the fundamental pillar of the EU is freedom of expression, justice and rule of law and this report will precisely fill a gap that the ongoing legal systems still have.

The Maltese MEP gave an example from her own country, saying that investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was assassinated, had over 40 SLAPP cases filed against her.

Metsola drew attention to the tendency of increasing the number of such cases in a numerous EU Member States. She expressed hope that with the other rapporteur Tiemo Wölken (S&D, DE) they will manage to find a strong and broad political support of a legal framework that protects these journalists, civil society organisations and NGOs “from being hampered from doing their work because ultimately it is in the public interest”.

We want to establish rules to protect journalists, to protect NGOs, their freedom of speech, their freedom to report and we need a more secure and more safe environment for them, rapporteur Wölken underscored. He highlighted the need to adopt a directive at the EU level for setting minimum standards for all Member States.

Wölken added that there is a need as well of non-legislative measures, mentioning among them a EU fund to support victims of SLAPP that should be created “because the lawsuits are very expensive and they are strategically used to avoid the work of journalists”. We need to create networks, so victims of SLAPP can coordinate and come together, he urged.

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