Sven Giegold
Member of the European Parliament – Greens/EFA Group

Speaker of the German Green Delegation

SLAPP/Press freedom: European Parliament condemns attack on press and civil society through intimidation lawsuits

Dear friends and all those who are interested,

The European Parliament has just adopted with a large majority a report against the restriction of freedom of the press and freedom of expression through so-called SLAPP suits (Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation). The aim of these SLAPP court cases is to silence critical journalists, environmentalists and civil society who work for the common good and expose abuses. At the time of her death, a total of 47 such SLAPP proceedings were ongoing against the Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was murdered in 2017. The proceedings against the courageous investigative journalist were initiated by corrupt and powerful players in politics and business in Malta, whose dealings she uncovered with her investigative journalism. The number of SLAPP proceedings is increasing across Europe. So far, however, not a single EU member state has passed laws to protect civil society and the press against this abuse of the rule of law by SLAPPs.

In the report adopted today, the European Parliament denounces this lack of protection and demands effective legal measures from member states and the European Commission. The Commission plans to present a draft law in the second quarter of 2022.

Sven Giegold, speaker of the German green delegation in the European Parliament, explains:

“SLAPP procedures are nothing less than an attack on our democracy. The threat of compensation claims leads to a structural weakening of the Fourth Estate. This Damocles sword of expensive lawsuits hangs over the editorial offices. These days, the most important investigative stories hardly appear in professional media outlets because the carefully vetted evidence might not be court-proof. The legal departments of media houses have become an invisible co-author in the editorial offices of investigative journalism. The pressure of looming lawsuits and the associated financial risks curb the ability of the media and civil society to act enormously. Powerful people from politics and business abuse the rule of law to silence unpleasant voices from the press and civil society. It is not uncommon for them to be successful because the victims are threatened with financial ruin.”

“It is hard to bear that, after the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, five years will have passed before the Commission presents a legislative package to protect the press and civil society. The European Parliament made it clear today that the EU as a whole and every single member state on its own needs anti-SLAPP laws to protect freedom of expression and freedom of the press.

A whole SLAPP industry has developed in Europe. The internal market is being abused to barrage defenders of democracy and human rights in the EU with lawsuits. “Libel tourism” has become the new sport of the corrupt and powerful. The systematic attacks on the press and civil society in Europe must stop. Today the European Parliament urged the Commission to act. The Commission must come forward with strong legal measures as soon as possible.”

Link to the report by the European Parliament: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/A-9-2021-0292_EN.html