The solution against vexatious lawsuits filed against Maltese journalists in foreign courts could be achieved by amending the new media law, the Front Against Censorship has said.
The front said it intends to create a “buffer” for the press which is compatible with EU law until the EU Commission presents its proposals on an EU wide Anti-SLAPP directive.
Among others, the front is proposing that Maltese courts should not enforce foreign judgments against Maltese journalists if this endangers the the journalist’s or media house’s operations.
While the European Commission is actively assessing the possibility of proposing EU anti-SLAPP legislation to protect journalists, the Maltese government has ruled out introducing such legislation as it insists this would be in breach of EU law.
The front said that the amendments it was putting forward do not limit or restrict the right of a third country, individual or entity in seeking redress in a foreign court against a Maltese based journalist or newspaper.
“Nor are we a priori determining that the recognition or enforcement of a judgment delivered by a competent court outside of Malta will be outright rejected.”
However, the front said, “when a foreign person or entity seeks to enforce a judgment delivered by a competent court outside Malta in the Maltese courts, the latter must be mindful of various fundamental principles.”
The amendments put forward by the front propose that before acceding to a demand by foreign jurisdictions, Maltese courts should take into account whether the defendant was afforded equivalent rights and defences as set out in the new Maltese media law, “whether the moral damages awarded in such judgement shall gravely prejudice the economic capacity of the defendant such that they will likely result in his financial ruin or his inability to operate” and whether such judgement impedes or is likely to impede the defendant’s journalistic freedoms or freedom of expression.
“We are confident that the criteria we have established in the draft amendment are intended to protect individuals (the press in this case) from a manifest breach of a rule of law regarded as essential, or a breach of a right that is recognised as fundamental, in Malta’s legal order were enforcement is sought,” the front said.
Earlier this year, the Maltese government voted down amendments presented by Nationalist Party MP Jason Azzopardi to protect journalists against foreign lawsuits (SLAPP) intended to censor, intimidate, and silence critics by crippling them financially.
The Maltese government’s stand was criticised by legal experts who said the legal advice the government sought was biased and aimed at shooting down the Opposition’s proposal rather than genuinely seeking ways to protect journalists.
SLAPP lawsuits have been used in Malta to intimidate investigative journalists and media houses by Pilatus Bank and the concessionaires of Malta’s citizenship-for-cash scheme, Henley & Partners who in December 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.