Metsola draft on European anti-SLAPP law heads for November vote

Report by Roberta Metsola and socialist MEP Tiemo Wölken approved in committee, proposes Europe-wide law protecting press from SLAPPs

Roberta Metsola is a co-rapporteur along with socialist MEP Tiemo Wölken on the anti-SLAPP law
Roberta Metsola is a co-rapporteur along with socialist MEP Tiemo Wölken on the anti-SLAPP law

MEPs from two committees have voted in favour of a draft report for a European anti-SLAPP law that will protect the press from vexatious legal actions.

The report will be voted on by the European Parliament plenary in November.

The report was drawn up by EP vice-president and Nationalist MEP Roberta Metsola, and socialist MEP Tiemo Wölken, from the Civil Liberties and Legal Affairs committees, respectively.

The draft report was endorsed yesterday with 63 votes for, while mainly far-right and non-aligned MEPs voted against (nine) or abstained (10).

MEPs proposed measures to counteract the threat that Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs) pose to journalists, NGOs and civil society.

“The strong support for our report sends a powerful message that Parliament will safeguard the fourth pillar of our democracy,” Metsola said. “We call for mechanisms to allow for the expeditious dismissal of vexatious lawsuits and to help those affected to claim compensation. We want an EU Fund and information networks to support victims. The key issue is balance: we are targeting those who abuse our legal systems to silence or intimidate, while protecting those caught in the cross-fire, many of whom have nowhere else to turn.”

Wölken called on the Commission to come forward with concrete proposals on ‘libel tourism’ and ‘forum shopping’, as well as psychological support and “a ‘first aid’ one-stop-shop for victims”.

The MEPs presented a package of measures, including legislation, which includes: an ambitious legal framework in the upcoming Media Freedom Act; the prevention of ‘libel tourism’ or ‘forum shopping’ through uniform and predictable defamation rules, and by establishing that cases should be decided by the courts (and according to the laws) of the defendant’s habitual place of residence;

  • Rules on early dismissal by the courts so that SLAPPs can be stopped quickly based on objective criteria, such as the number and nature of lawsuits or actions brought by the claimant, the choice of jurisdiction and law, or the existence of a clear and burdensome imbalance of power;
     
  • Sanctions for the claimant if they fail to justify why their action is not abusive, rules to ensure the consideration of abusive motives even if early dismissal is not granted, and the payment of costs and damages suffered by the victim;
     
  • Safeguards against combined SLAPPs, i.e. those combining criminal and civil liability charges, and measures to ensure that defamation (which is a criminal offence in most member states, despite calls for its decriminalisation by the Council of Europe and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe) cannot be used for SLAPPs;
     
  • An EU directive establishing minimum standards, which should protect victims while preventing and sanctioning the misuse of anti-SLAPP measures, e.g. by authoritarian governments weaponising them to protect their government-organised NGOs; and financial aid for legal and psychological help for victims of SLAPPs and organisations assisting them, and adequate training of judges and lawyers.

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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.

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