Updated to include statement from MEPs.
MEPs from six political parties have demanded an EU Anti-SLAPP Directive which would allow journalists to request the expedient dismissal of lawsuits designed to silence them.
The MEPs also urged the European Commission to fine companies which make use of such practices in jurisdictions outside the EU and called for the creation of a fund supporting journalists “that choose to resist malicious attempts to silence them and to assist in the recovery of funds due to them.”
As reported in the Guardian on Thursday, the MEPs listed the companies which have attempted to silence journalists through crippling lawsuits in foreign jurisdictions, including the SLAPP lawsuit filed by Malta-based Pilatus Bank in Arizona, US against murdered journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
In a letter sent to European Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans, six MEPs including Socialist Ana Gomes and EPP MEP David Casa said “we are committed to the protection of investigative journalists and media freedom across the EU and will pursue this issue until Anti-SLAPP EU legislation is in place. We are hopeful that the Commission will join us in denouncing these abusive practices and take swift action to address them.”
Among the proposals put forward to Timmermans, the MEPs said the directive should include “the ability for investigative journalists and independent media to request that vexatious lawsuits in the EU be expediently dismissed and claim compensation.”
They also said that the directive should also establish punitive fines on firms pursuing these practices when recourse is made in jurisdictions outside the EU.
The MEPs also called for the setting up of an EU register that names and shames firms that pursue such abusive practices.
The letter signed by MEPs from EPP, S&D, Greens-EFA, ALDE, ECR and GUE also noted that Pilatus Bank had successfully silenced Maltese media houses after being threatened with financial ruin.
They also noted that The Shift News received similar threats from Henley and Partners, the concessionaires of Malta’s cash-for-passport scheme. Henley and Partners threatened The Shift News 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.
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.
In a statement, MEP David Casa said: “By threatening and bullying the press, Pilatus Bank have succeeded in turning a local issue into an international one. The press is the fourth estate – an essential pillar of our democracies. We must be uncompromising and unwavering in ensuring the press is protected and unrelenting in countering practices that seek to undermine it. Pilatus Bank and Henley & Partners should by now be aware that any attempt to harass the Maltese press will be met with the wrath of the European Parliament”.