On 1 December 2020 a model EU anti-SLAPP Directive was released: SLAPP stands for Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation (see also here). The proposal is an initiative of a broad network of NGOs supporting the advocacy and initiatives for anti-SLAPP legislation at the level of the EU.
SLAPPs are pursued on behalf of powerful individuals and organisations who seek to avoid public scrutiny, while their aim is to drain the target’s financial and psychological resources and chill critical voices to the detriment of public participation. The model for an EU anti-SLAPP Directive proposes a set of rules that should guarantee that in each EU country SLAPPs can be dismissed at an early stage of proceedings, that SLAPP litigants pay for abusing the law and the courts, and that SLAPP targets are given assistance to defend themselves.
The model also contains provisions against so called ‘libel tourism’. The Directive should protect public watchdogs such as journalists, human rights defenders, NGOs, activists and whistle-blowers that help hold the powerful to account and keep the democratic debate alive.
A resolution of the European Parliament ‘on strengthening media freedom: the protection of journalists in Europe, hate speech, disinformation and the role of platforms’ of 25 November 2020 also urges the European Commission to take action against the use of SLAPPs. The European Parliament in section 13 of its resolution
‘condemns the use of SLAPP to silence or intimidate investigative journalists and outlets and create a climate of fear around their reporting of certain topics; strongly reiterates its call on the Commission to come forward with a comprehensive proposal for a legislative act aiming to establish minimum standards against SLAPP practices across the EU’.
The draft model for an EU anti-SLAPP Directive is a well-timed assist for the European Commission to implement its Work Programme 2021 in which the Commission announced to ‘take action to protect journalists and civil society against strategic lawsuits against public participation’.
For the full text of the report of the NGOs including the model of EU Directive, click here. More information is also available on the website of the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) and Article 19 (Art 19).
Dirk Voorhoof, Human Rights Centre Ghent University and Legal Human Academy