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Parliament to debate law amendments to protect journalists against crippling lawsuits

Private Member’s Bill presented by Opposition seeks to prohibit expensive international lawsuits against Maltese journalists

A Private Member’s Bill being presented in Parliament today by shadow justice minister Jason Azzopardi seeks to prohibit the execution in Malta against any resident of any judgement won abroad, based on anti-SLAPP lawsuit.

SLAPP lawsuits are intended to intimidate and silence investigative journalists and independent media by burdening them with exorbitant legal expenses until they abandon their stance as a result of the threat of financially crippling lawsuits abroad.

Media organisations in Malta have been threatened by SLAPP lawsuits by Pilatus Bank, leading to the removal of articles on the company. Henley and Partners have also threatened The Shift with legal action in the US and the UK in an attempt to get an article on the company removed. The Shift has refused to remove the article and has published the threat received.

The implications are severe because SLAPP lawsuits help create a world where one particular version of the truth vanishes from circulation – not because it was untrue but because it became too expensive to assert.

The Private Member’s Bill presented by the Nationalist Party aims to protect media organisations from such threats by giving Maltese courts “exclusive” jurisdiction over any Maltese publications “irrespective of whether the publication in question is hosted or otherwise broadcast from servers located outside Malta.”

The bill also proposes that “a judgement delivered on a matter of alleged defamation or libel against a person or entity normally resident or domiciled in or operating within Malta shall be deemed to be contrary to the public policy or to the internal public law of Malta unless the said person or entity has defended the case on its merits in the foreign court that shall have delivered the judgement that is sought to be enforced.”

“It’s an expression of our sovereignty,” said Azzopardi.

Last week, MEPs also called for European legislation that would curtail abusive legal SLAPP practices. The MEPs also called on the European Commission to take note of the recent report made by Mapping Media Freedom with regard to SLAPP practices against The Shift.

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