MEP and Co-Chair of the Media Working Group David Casa has welcomed the Commission’s proposal to curtail strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPP).
“After four years of hard work, it is immensely gratifying to see significant progress on press freedom in Europe.”
David Casa was reacting to the European Commission’s proposal for a Directive that would change legal procedures across Europe to ensure better protections for journalists doing their job.
As Co-Chair of the Media Working Group, Casa has been significantly involved in raising awareness in Brussels and advocating for a legal, Europe-wide solution to address vexatious lawsuits. In the European Parliament, he led political efforts by academics, journalists, and activists to put an end to the issue.
The Directive, announced by Commission Vice-President Vera Jourová today, addresses two key legal hurdles that enabled vexatious lawsuits being filed domestically and overseas.
“I am pleased to see that what the Commission is proposing is exactly what we have been campaigning for. We are seeing libel tourism being addressed, which currently allows businesses to sue small media houses in jurisdictions with much heftier fines. And the Directive will also foresee dissuasive penalties for abusive practices”.
David Casa explained that SLAPP suits reached their peak in Malta in 2017, when journalists like Daphne Caruana Galizia faced dozens of bogus defamation suits, including criminal libel and intimidating letters from Pilatus Bank.
“When this issue came to the fore in Malta, it was seen as a complex issue that involved aspects of human rights and private international law. It is a sign of success that we mobilised support on a European level”, Casa said.
“We now have a working solution on the table that will bolster protections for journalists, especially those working on public interest investigations against those corrupt entities and governments with deeper pockets and more resources than entire news agencies.”
Casa explained that it was far from plain sailing. He cited moments when the Maltese Government had outsourced legal advice from a UK law firm to justify voting against amendments that would have protected journalists from vexatious libel cases.
“The Labour Government had everything ready, but it decided to contradict the view of then European Commissioner for Justice Jourová and of the European Commission. The European SLAPP situation was by far the worst in Malta. We had cabinet ministers and the Prime Minister himself suing journalists with a pile of cases, even after they were murdered.”
Between 2010 and 2021, Malta had the highest number of SLAPP suits per capita in Europe.
Casa thanked Commission Vice President Věra Jourová for her persistent support on this issue from day one. He also thanked European Parliament President Roberta Metsola, who contributed significantly to the cause against SLAPPs. Metsola led a report in the Parliament calling on the Commission to propose legislation in this regard.
“Finally, we have an unprecedented opportunity to bolster press freedom not just in Malta, but across Europe. It was a phenomenon that was felt particularly strongly, to which we found a European solution. I look forward to working even harder to make this proposal a legal reality as soon as possible.”
The Media Working Group of the European Parliament is a cross-party alliance of MEPs campaigning for journalistic safety and press freedom across Europe. In the past years, it has led efforts in the European Parliament to support journalists under threat. It is co-chaired by David Casa (EPP Group) and by Romanian MEP Ramona Strugariu (Renew Group).
Věra Jourová of Czechia, is Commission Vice President for Values and Transparency who leads the Commission’s efforts on upholding the rule of law. She was previously European Commissioner for Justice, when she campaigned extensively for justice for press freedom, the rule of law, and justice for Daphne Caruana Galizia.
Note to editors
The EPP Group is the largest political group in the European Parliament with 177 Members from all EU Member States