Rising trend of SLAPP across Europe cause for concern, say MEPs

Nationalist MEP David Casa says anti-SLAPP law would set minimum standard across the EU to prevent weaponised litigation against press

Nationalist MEP David Casa forms part of the European Parliament's Media Working Group
Nationalist MEP David Casa forms part of the European Parliament's Media Working Group

Nationalist MEP David Casa and Renew MEP Ramona Strugariu have sounded the alarm on what they said was a rising trend of strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs) happening against the backdrop of negotiations on an anti-SLAPP Directive.

The co-chairs of the Media Working Group were reacting to the publication of a new report by the CASE coalition, documenting a steady trend in court proceedings abused to silence journalists.

“Forum shopping, lax legal procedures and a system favouring those with deeper pockets is eroding our free press,” the two MEPs said.

An anti-SLAPP law would set a minimum standard across the EU to prevent member states with inadequate laws from posing a litigious loophole to be weaponised against journalists Europe-wide, Casa said.

“The report shows that our campaign against SLAPPs can only go so far. 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.”

The second report by the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation, on behalf of the Coalition Against SLAPPs in Europe (CASE) said the SLAPP actions in Malta had climbed to 44, a significant change from four cases in the previous year.

While the report maps Malta’s high rate of 19.9 cases per 100,000 population in Malta, effectively making it the highest across Europe, CASE said the increase is due to 40 Freedom of Information requests.

The European database on SLAPPS had increased from 570 cases in 2022 to 820 in June 2023. The most common SLAPPs filed between 2010 and 2022 are defamation (590), followed by breach of privacy (41), and for the latter year, FOI appeals (40).

81 of these cases (9.5%) are cross-border, that is, the plaintiff and defendant are domiciled in different countries.

The three most common targets of SLAPPs are all media-related: journalists, media outlets, and editors, in that order. Activists and NGOs are the fourth and fifth most common SLAPP targets.

The most common type of SLAPP offenders are businesspersons (335) followed by politicians (227), and State-owned entities (113) in third place.