Opposition to propose including anti-SLAPP provision in new media law

The Nationalist Party has informed the government it will be proposing that the new Media and Defamation Act include anti-SLAPP provisions to protect Maltese journalists when the law goes up before the House Committee later this afternoon

The new Media and Defamation Act should include anti-SLAPP provisions to ensure journalists and media houses are protected as soon as possible, the Nationalist Party is insisting.

MaltaToday has confirmed that the opposition has in fact informed the government that it would be bringing up the matter later on today when the Parliamentary Committee for the Consideration of Bills meets at 4.30pm to discuss the new legislation.

In January, PN MPs Jason Azzopardi, deputy party leader David Agius and Opposition whip Robert Cutajar 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.

Azzopardi told MaltaToday that he felt that, the private member’s bill notwithstanding, it was imperative that anti-SLAPP be included in the new media act, so as to provide protection to Maltese journalists.

“Time is of the essence, and the sooner we have legislative protection in place, the better,” he said.

“Why do we need to wait months for legal protection, leaving the way clear for organisations like Pilatus and Henley and Partners to continue trying to stifle critics?”

It is as yet unclear whether the government will accept to include anti-SLAPP provisions in the media law.

But earlier this month, Justice Minister Owen Bonnici – who also chairs the committee that will be meeting this afternoon – said that the government was seeking legal advice on whether the anti-SLAPP Bill presented by the opposition was legally viable.

“The Government is obtaining legal advice on this proposal particularly in the light of private international law principles and mutual cooperation and enforcement of judgments within the EU,” he had said.

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