Updated to include the statement by MEP David Casa
The European Commission is actively assessing the possibility of proposing EU anti-SLAPP legislation to protect journalists, European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans confirmed on Monday.
In a response to a question by MEP David Casa, Timmermans said the EC is looking into new legislation after MEPs from six political parties sent him a letter last month demanding an EU anti-SLAPP Directive which would allow journalists to request the expedient dismissal of lawsuits designed to silence them.
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.
Among the proposals put forward to Timmermans, the MEPs said the European Commission should fine companies that 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.
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.
A SLAPP lawsuit was filed by Malta-based Pilatus Bank in Arizona, US, against journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia who was assassinated on 16 October.
MEPs also noted that Henley and Partners, the concessionaires of Malta’s cash-for-passport scheme, had 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.
Casa welcomed Timmermans’ announcement. “The use of these practices constitute a serious threat to media freedom and should be addressed at EU level,” he said in a statement.
The PN Head of Delegation pointed out that he had written to the Commission on a number of occasions, in order to call for these practices to be addressed.
“We should be pioneers in enacting legislation that protects investigative journalism. Instead we are lagging behind. It is unacceptable that we allow companies with unlimited resources to bully and intimidate independent media with vexatious lawsuits in jurisdictions outside the EU,” he added.