[WATCH] Metsola anti-SLAPP report gets green light from European Parliament

Report calls for the strengthening of media freeom where there is improper use of the law to silence journalists, NGOs and civil society

Nationalist MEP Roberta Metsola
Nationalist MEP Roberta Metsola

MEPs have voted in a report co-authored by Maltese MEP Roberta Metsola (EPP) and Tiemo Wolken (S&D) calling for an early dismissal mechanism for SLAPP cases.

The report calls for the early dismissal of SLAPP cases when these show a “clear and burdensome imbalance of power between the claimant and the defendant” in violation of equality of arms.

It was adopted in the European plenary with 444 votes in favour, 48 against, and 75 abstentions.

In this report, the European Parliament is calling for a directive that covers both domestic and cross-border SLAPP cases. The report proposes the strengthening of media freedom where there is improper use of the law to silence journalists, NGOs and civil society.

Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs) are cases where the rich and powerful, be they public or private sector initiate a litany of frivolous often baseless legal proceedings against an individual or group, saddling defendants with many legal cases so that they no longer cope financially, mentally or both, thereby silencing them and halting their work.

The report highlights the detrimental effect these SLAPPs have on the exercise of fundamental rights and freedoms, and to diminish critical public thought and opinion, and weaken democracy and the rule of law.

Concern is expressed for the increasing prevalence of these SLAPP lawsuits against journalists and civil society groups. Member states are encouraged to include media literacy and critical thinking in national school curricula and work closely with journalists to help combat this.

Seeing that breaches of EU law frustrate the internal market, and are often brought to light by members of the public, it follows logically that anti-SLAPP action is elementary to ensuring proper enforcement of EU law and policy.

“SLAPPs not only severely undermine the right of effective access to justice of SLAPP victims, and thereby the rule of law, but also constitute a misuse of member states’ justice systems and legal frameworks, by hampering the ability of member states to successfully address ongoing common challenges in the Justice Scoreboard, such as the length of proceedings and the quality of justice systems, as well as caseload administration and case backlogs,” the Metsola-Wolken report says.

“Judges and judicial agents cannot be burdened with the handling of unfounded claims that are later on dismissed as abusive and lacking in legal merit.”

Ewropej Funded by the European Union

This article is part of a content series called Ewropej. This is a multi-newsroom initiative part-funded by the European Parliament to bring the work of the EP closer to the citizens of Malta and keep them informed about matters that affect their daily lives. This article reflects only the author’s view. The European Parliament is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.

More in Ewropej