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S&Ds push to end abusive lawsuits against journalists and activists in Europe

Date

10 Jul 2023

Sections

InfoSociety

On Tuesday, 11 July, the European Parliament will adopt a set of measures to end the widespread practice of abusive lawsuits aimed at silencing journalists and civil society.

The Socialists and Democrats have for years been raising the alarm concerning the increased number of journalists, watchdogs and rights defenders that are under threat in the EU as victims of strategic lawsuits against public participation (so-called SLAPPs). These unfounded and abusive legal procedures, used by the powerful and wealthy, try to dissuade critical voices from bringing issues of public interest to light. These abusive litigations not only cost time, money and have a great psychological impact on SLAPP victims, but also result in a degradation of our democracies and rule of law.

The Parliament’s draft law sets concrete rules to ensure EU-wide protection to those working in the public interest, including the creation of a one-stop shop at national level, which the victims of SLAPP can access to receive help by dedicated national networks of specialised lawyers, legal practitioners and psychologists.

The European Parliament will be voting on its report “Protection of journalists and human rights defenders from manifestly unfounded or abusive court proceedings”, tomorrow. Trilogues are set to start on Wednesday, 12 July, and the new directive should be adopted before the end of the year.

Tiemo Wölken, S&D MEP and European Parliament rapporteur for the report “Protection of journalists and human rights defenders from manifestly unfounded or abusive court proceedings”, said:

“Journalists, watchdogs and rights defenders are the backbone of our democracies and they should be able to do their job without fear and without being legally intimidated. The rule of law, freedom of speech and freedom of association will be undermined if we do not take action against this type of harmful litigation. The Parliament’s vote this week is crucial to make sure that our courts are not playgrounds for the personal gain of the rich and powerful.

“The draft law contains several key S&D proposals, including the compensation of damages for victims of SLAPPs. It also foresees the creation of legal protection against the abuse of “forum shopping”, which takes place when a claimant initiates litigation in a country other than where the defendant is living because of weaker freedom of speech laws or higher legal fees.

“Taking today’s digital world into account, we have successfully managed to introduce a broader definition of matters with cross-border implications by expanding the scope from matters of public interest to any issue that is accessible via the internet. That would be the case, for example, of social media campaigns or online media coverage.

“The upcoming trilogue negotiations will be challenging, as the Council has significantly weakened many of the Commission’s proposals, including the notion of cross-border cases. However, I am confident that we will succeed in finding a solution with the Spanish presidency and the Council. In the end, we all share the same goal: properly protecting our democracies.”

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