Nationalist MPs table anti-SLAPP law to stop bullying of Maltese press

Nationalist MPs Jason Azzopardi and David Agius present private members' bill to prevent plaintiffs from using damaging lawsuits brought in foreign courts to cow Maltese press

File photo: PN MPs David Agius and Jason Azzopardi (from left), and Clyde Puli
File photo: PN MPs David Agius and Jason Azzopardi (from left), and Clyde Puli

Nationalist MP Jason Azzopardi, deputy party leader David Agius and Opposition whip Robert Cutajar have presented a private members’ bill to outlaw the use of SLAPP lawsuits against the Maltese press.

A strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) is a lawsuit that is intended to censor, intimidate, and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defence until they abandon their criticism or opposition.

The tactic is employed by rich organisations that use the threat of expensive lawsuits in foreign courts to force news organisations to cave in to pressure, and was recently used by the private bank Pilatus as well as citizenship experts Henley & Partners.

Addressing a press conference before presenting the bill to the speaker, Agius said the bill was intended to prevent other organisations from using SLAPP lawsuits against local media organisations.

“It is the repression of the free press, and we believe the Maltese parliament should protect freedom of expression,” said Agius.

The proposed law, which was written by Azzopardi, seeks to make any judgement of any court outside Malta, on alleged defamation, handed down against Maltese residents, to be considered “contrary to the public policy or to the internal public law of Malta” when the defendant would not have defended the case on its merits in the foreign court.

In a second amendment, this time to the Press Act, the Bill proposes that it shall be a matter of the public policy of Malta that proceedings in respect of any publication, made by a person or entity normally resident or domiciled in or operating within Malta, shall be brought in a Maltese court and that these courts will have exclusive jurisdiction to hear and determine such proceedings “irrespective of whether the publication in question is hosted or otherwise broadcast from servers located outside Malta”.

“If a court abroad hands down a sentence regarding abortion, for example,” explained Azzopardi, “this can’t be executed in Malta, because it goes against internal public policy”.

Similarly, he said, the proposed amendments would prevent sentences regarding defamation and libel handed down in foreign jurisdictions, from being executed in Malta.

Azzopardi stressed that Malta was a sovereign country, and that any entity that wished to sue someone for libel could do so in Maltese courts.

Finally, he said he hoped to government would support the initiative, adding that it was unacceptable for Maltese media organisations to have had to remove articles from their archives simply because they were threatened by large cash-rich foreign companies. 

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