MEPs David Casa and Ramona Strugariu have called for stronger legislation to combat Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs) in the wake of a Coalition Against SLAPPs in Europe (CASE) report that placed Malta at the top of the list of SLAPPs per capita.
They said in a statement on Friday, “There are many bad actors, including governments, who will go after journalists as long as the law places more value on lengthy and expensive proceedings than on factual reporting in the public interest,” which shows that a “campaign against SLAPPs can only go so far”.
Casa and Strugariu, the co-chairs of the European People’s Party Media Working Group, said current legislation is being abused through “forum shopping, lax legal procedures and a system favouring those with deeper pockets that are eroding our free press.”
The “rising trend of SLAPPs” coincides with the European Parliament’s approval of an anti-SLAPP directive just last month. The directive has been widely criticised by both MEPs and press freedom organisations as “disappointingly unambitious”.
The CASE report on SLAPPs in Europe published last Tuesday analysed 47 European countries, with Malta topping the list for SLAPPs per capita.
“This increase is mostly due to 40 Freedom of Information requests filed by the editor of the Maltese online investigative portal The Shift News that were subsequently challenged in court by the government,” CASE said in its report published on Wednesday morning.
The coalition said “A total of 44 new SLAPPs were recorded in Malta in 2022, a significant change from 2021 where only four SLAPPs were recorded. This was the highest annual number of SLAPPs since 2017 when 33 SLAPPs were filed against Daphne Caruana Galizia alone.”
Earlier this month, The Shift won another two Court of Appeal cases, bringing the tally of cases won so far to 14. Those government entities have been ordered to supply the data requested through the freedom of information mechanism.