MEPs stress need to pro­tect jour­nal­ists while Mal­tese gov­ern­ment is slammed

Malta Independent - - NEWS - Kevin Schem­bri Or­land

A press con­fer­ence held by MEPs from a num­ber of EU po­lit­i­cal par­ties yes­ter­day stressed the need to pro­tect jour­nal­ists and the need to cre­ate EU-wide anti-SLAPP leg­is­la­tion, while the Mal­tese gov­ern­ment was also slammed over the lo­cal SLAPP is­sues Malta was brought up in a Euro­pean Par­lia­men­tary press con­fer­ence, yet again not in the best of light, due to the threats of SLAPP law­suits in Malta. The Mal­tese gov­ern­ment re­fused to in­tro­duce anti-SLAPP leg­is­la­tion when the op­por­tu­nity arose.

Jus­tice Min­is­ter Owen Bon­nici had said that an anti-SLAPP amend­ment which had been pre­sented by the Op­po­si­tion on a lo­cal bill went di­rectly against EU leg­is­la­tion, yet this anal­y­sis has now been deemed to be wrong di­rectly by the EU Com­mis­sion.

The min­is­ter had said that he is not an ex­pert in the field, and four ex­pert opin­ions he ob­tained ex­pressed reser­va­tions about its im­pact in prac­tice, and he is there­fore fol­low­ing that ad­vice. He had said that all of them agreed that EU di­rec­tives, specif­i­cally the judg­ments reg­u­la­tion, clearly state that a mem­ber state must recog­nise a sen­tence laid within an­other mem­ber state or any state that forms part of the Lugano Con­ven­tion (Switzer­land, Denmark, Sweden, Ice­land.)

Yes­ter­day how­ever, the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion said that it is pos­si­ble to pre­vent the en­force­ment of SLAPP judg­ments in other ju­ris­dic­tions on the ba­sis of pub­lic pol­icy. It said that an EU mem­ber state has a right to leg­is­late against SLAPP originating in a ju­ris­dic­tion out­side the EU.

MEPs from dif­fer­ent po­lit­i­cal par­ties yes­ter­day held a press con­fer­ence over the murder of Daphne Caru­ana Gal­izia and threats to jour­nal­ists.

PN MEP David Casa high­lighted that the Greek court ap­peal de­ci­sion on Maria Efi­mova is set to be taken to­day, and ex­pressed his hope that her life will be pro­tected by her ex­tra­di­tion not be­ing al­lowed.

Casa said he would never for­get the anger he felt when Pi­la­tus bank sent threat­en­ing let­ters to me­dia houses. He said Daphne Caru­ana Gal­izia was the tar­get of this abuse, and that when she was killed, she did not know Pi­la­tus had in­sti­tuted a multi-mil­lion dol­lar law­suit against her in the USA.

He said mount­ing a de­fence in the USA would be fi­nan­cially crip­pling for jour­nal­ists, adding that for a time Pi­la­tus did suc­ceed. He said such prac­tices have no place in the EU. S&D MEP Ana Gomes spoke of bring­ing about EU anti-SLAPP leg­is­la­tion. She said that she was very shocked to hear that the Caru­ana Gal­izia fam­ily are now fac­ing li­bel cases by many po­lit­i­cal ac­tors in­clud­ing the Prime Min­is­ter, and that some of these ac­tors gave the green light for SLAPPS in other ju­ris­dic­tions against Daphne Caru­ana Gal­izia.

She spoke of the need to in­ves­ti­gate the links be­tween all the com­pa­nies and lawyers as­so­ci­a­tions lend­ing them­selves to in­tim­i­date jour­nal­ists and blog­gers try­ing to ex­pose the truth about crim­i­nal cases.

An­other MEP, Monica Ma­covei said that stand­ing for jus­tice means tak­ing the high­est risk. She said that she be­lieves that in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ists will be the ones to find out the mur­der­ers not the au­thor­i­ties.

She ex­pressed sup­port to in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ists.

She said that it is their duty to pro­tect jour­nal­ists. “EU leg­is­la­tion does not pro­hibit anti-SLAPP leg­is­la­tion, so what the Mal­tese au­thor­i­ties said that anti-SLAPP pro­vi­sions are against EU law is not true. EU law is not on the crim­i­nal’s side and we will con­tinue to fight for anti-SLAPP leg­is­la­tion. In the mean time we cre­ated a mon­i­tor­ing group for all slap cases.”

An­other MEP, Maite Pagaza­u­r­tundúa said that whistle­blow­ers are a cru­cial source for in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ism, and ap­pealed to the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion to ur­gently present anti-SLAPP leg­is­la­tion.

Jur­gen Balzan, from The Shift News, was present at the press con­fer­ence, and spoke. He said that the threat of SLAPP law­suits put them at risk of clos­ing down, and said that such ac­tion would be the end of such a small me­dia or­gan­i­sa­tion.

He said that the fact that Hen­ley and part­ners told MEPs that they still haven’t de­cided what to do with this le­gal ac­tion feels like a guil­lo­tine wait­ing to drop, “as one fine day they might wake up and de­cide to take ac­tion, so we don’t know when they will do it. It takes away the serenity, the peace of mind needed to do our job. Si­lenc­ing jour­nal­ists in Malta and other coun­tries through SLAPP ac­tion does not only have an ef­fect in na­tional ter­ri­tory. If we are stopped from in­ves­ti­gat­ing those be­ing granted Mal­tese ci­ti­zen­ship, then the rest of Europe will not know who is re­ceiv­ing EU ci­ti­zen­ship. If we stop in­ves­ti­gat­ing money laun­der­ing in Malta, then it will have se­ri­ous im­pli­ca­tions in the fight against crim­i­nal­ity across Europe.”

Sarah Clarke from PEN In­ter­na­tional spoke about how se­ri­ous and egre­gious abuse of defama­tion laws are in the EU. She said for­eign gov­ern­ment use lack of EU di­rec­tives on SLAPP law­suits to con­tinue their op­pres­sion.

She spoke of the need to point to the EU as a leader in anti-SLAPP leg­is­la­tion. She spoke of the costs of SLAPP lit­i­ga­tion as be­ing pro­hib­i­tive to jour­nal­ists, many of whom cant challenge such cases She said that Lon­don based firms in par­tic­u­lar take cases on be­half of wealthy com­pa­nies and in­di­vid­u­als against in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ists and that this is part of a trend called rep­u­ta­tion laun­der­ing.

She spoke of the chill­ing ef­fect of SLAPP leg­is­la­tion. She men­tioned that smaller pa­pers in the UK, es­pe­cially lo­cal pa­pers would print grov­el­ling apolo­gies even with ev­i­dence backing their truth­ful story given the crip­pling costs as­so­ci­ated with just fight­ing such cases.

She stressed the need for EU anti-Slapp leg­is­la­tion.

An EU rep­re­sen­ta­tive for Com­mit­tee to Pro­tect Jour­nal­ists said they have raised anti-SLAPP leg­is­la­tion with the EU com­mis­sion, and the need to address fi­nan­cial threats jour­nal­ists face.

The rep­re­sen­ta­tive said that the 2019 elec­tions means that this is­sue should re­main on the agenda and that the Com­mis­sion should not stop fol­low­ing this. The rep­re­sen­ta­tive said that SLAPP clashes with EU treaty val­ues.

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