PN adds anti-SLAPP amendment to new media law

The Nationalist Party has presented an amendment to include anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation) provisions in the new Media and Defamation Act.

Speaking to The Shift News, Opposition MP Jason Azzopardi said the new law should include anti-SLAPP provisions to ensure Maltese journalists and media houses are protected from crippling legal lawsuits abroad.

The amendment was presented to government on Tuesday and this is now included in the amendments being discussed by the Parliamentary Committee for the Consideration of Bills, Azzopardi said.

However, the amendment wasn’t discussed In the committee’s meeting on Wednesday as other amendments were discussed, including the introduction of slander and the definition of technology neutral media.

Among others the new media and defamation law proposes the removal of criminal libel and cautionary mandates in libel cases, the reduction of penalties in libel cases, the introduction of mediation in such cases.

Azzopardi said the amendment which government accepted to discuss is “identical” to the proposal he presented last month.

In January, Azzopardi presented a Private Member’s Bill seeking to prohibit the execution in Malta against any resident of any judgement won abroad, based on anti-SLAPP lawsuit.

Government has so far refused to commit itself on such a provision with deputy prime minister Chris Fearne telling The Shift News that “the Labour Party will be analysing [MP Jason] Azzopardi Private Member’s Bill from a legal point of view.”

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.

Following Henley’s threat, MEPs called for European legislation that would curtail abusive legal SLAPP practices. According to the MEPs, the practice is abusive, poses a threat to media freedom and has no place in the European Union.

SLAPP was also used against investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia who was assassinated on 16 October.

The Malta Information Technology Law Association (MITLA) has also called for a solution protecting journalists against SLAPP and libel tourism.

The association said Maltese law should prohibit the recognition and enforcement of foreign defamation judgements and constitutional provisions related to freedom of speech should be applied to protect Maltese persons from threats emanating or arising from situations of SLAPP and, most importantly, libel tourism.

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