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S&Ds call for end to abusive lawsuits: Our courts should not be a playground for the rich and powerful

Date

14 Oct 2021

Sections

Justice & Home Affairs

Today, MEPs are voting for EU proposals to end abusive lawsuits aimed at silencing critical public voices and suppressing media freedom.

Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, so-called SLAPPs, are a huge threat to media freedom and freedom of expression, and the use of lawsuits for these purposes is on the rise. MEPs are demanding EU-wide anti-SLAPPs legislation, as well as clear rules on the jurisdiction of defamation cases, to stop this rising phenomenon in the EU.

Today’s vote in the legal affairs committee and the civil liberties, justice and home affairs is a call on the Commission and member states to join Parliament’s fight against the restriction of public scrutiny and debate.

Tiemo Wölken, S&D spokesperson for legal affairs committee and rapporteur, said:

“SLAPP lawsuits are a threat to the rule of law and seriously undermine the fundamental rights to expression, information and association even before they materialise. They are a form of legal harassment and an abuse of the justice system that is used increasingly by powerful individuals and organisations who try to avoid public scrutiny and dissuade those who carry it out from doing so. The aim of a SLAPP is not to win the case, but to intimidate and deter many journalists and activists from making information known to the public, thus resulting in self-censorship. For us socialists it is clear:  Our courts should not be seen as a playground for powerful individuals, companies and politicians. Our courts should not be overburdened or abused for personal gain.

“As S&Ds, we have managed to widen the scope to include all actors engaging in public participation. Journalists and their work must be protected; however, they are not the only targets of these lawsuits. We have compiled a set of legislative, but also non-legislative measures such as the setting up of a robust fund or the introduction of effective legal assistance, information and practical advice and support provided by a one-stop-shop for ‘first aid’ to SLAPP victims. With this initiative report, we will call on the Commission to come forward with very concrete and feasible measures, including in regards to libel tourism and forum shopping.”

Łukasz Kohut, S&D rapporteur for civil liberties, justice and home affairs, said:

“The rich and the powerful, including government figures, have endless resources to weaken journalism and silence any critics through abusive lawsuits. Too many journalists, media organisations and NGOs regularly face smear campaigns through the use of these targeted lawsuits. But no one should fear legal consequences for speaking the truth. That is why the European Parliament has been urgently working to strengthen the voice of those working in the pursuit of the truth and put an end to abusive lawsuits. No effort to protect journalists or civil society is too much. With media freedom already under severe strain in the EU, we need the Commission to put proposals on the table that include binding safeguards for victims of SLAPPs. Across the EU, national governments must also fully implement the recommendations from the Council of Europe on the protection and safety of journalists. We have to act to counter any dangerous effort to undermine media freedom and democracy in the EU.”

 

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