MEP David Casa has urged the European Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans to propose EU anti-SLAPP legislation which he said is crucial to protect Maltese journalists following government’s failure to introduce such laws in Malta.
Casa called on the European Commission to propose such laws before the May deadline after the Maltese government voted down the opposition’s legal amendments to protect Maltese journalists from crippling foreign lawsuits.
In a letter sent on Tuesday morning to Timmermans, Casa reiterated the call by MEPs from across political groups to propose legislation that will address and end “SLAPPs” – lawsuits intended to intimidate and silence investigative journalists and independent media by burdening them with exorbitant legal expenses until they abandon their opposition.
“This practice is abusive, poses a threat to media freedom and has no place in the European Union,” Casa said in his letter.
Last month, Timmermans said the Commission is looking into new legislation after MEPs from six political parties sent him a letter demanding an EU anti-SLAPP Directive which would allow journalists to request the expedient dismissal of lawsuits designed to silence them.
Pointing out that 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, Casa said “in the case of assassinated investigated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, SLAPPs were used with the complicity of the Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, his Chief of Staff Keith Schembri and Minister for Justice and Culture Owen Bonnici.”
On Monday, Bonnici said government was against the introduction of the opposition’s amendments on the basis of it being incompatible with EU law.
“In view of the Maltese government’s complicity in the use of these practices as recently as December last year, this announcement was to be expected. The justification of incompatibility with EU law is nothing more than a weak pretext to block legislation that will protect investigative journalism in Malta,” Casa said.
This development, Casa added, further strengthens the argument in favour of the necessity of having EU legislation on this crucial issue.
“In view of your announcement in the LIBE committee last month were you indicated that the Commission was actively assessing the feasibility of proposals put forward to you by the cross-party group of MEPs, I urge you to ensure that this legislation is proposed before the Commission’s self- imposed May deadline,” the MEP said.