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EU proposes law to stop censorship lawsuits against journalists

Vice-President and Commissioner for Values and Transparency of the European Commission Vera Jourova made a statement after receiving a EU directive against SLAPP suits outside the Commission building at the EU headquarters in Brussels on February 1, 2022. petition with over 200,000 signatures that calls for an EU directive against SLAPP suits (abusive lawsuits filed with the purpose of shutting down acts of public participation) was delivered on February 1, 2022 to the European Commissioner for values and transparency, Vera Jourova. The petition was presented by representatives of the Coalition Against SLAPPs in Europe (CASE), together with two individuals affected by SLAPP suits.JOHN THYS/AFP via Getty Images

The European Union’s executive arm said Wednesday that it wants to see the EU adopt a law to protect journalists and civil rights activists from lawsuits aimed at censoring them.

The European Commission proposed safeguards to curb SLAPPS, or strategic lawsuits against public participation. It described such litigation as a “serious threat to democracy and fundamental rights, such as freedom of expression and information.“

Daphne Caruana Galizia, a Maltese investigative journalist who was killed in a 2017 car bombing, faced more than 40 lawsuits when she was killed, the commission said.

The proposed law would allow courts to dismiss cases early in the proceedings and puts the burden of proof on the parties bringing lawsuits "to prove that the case is not manifestly unfounded," the commission said.

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The suing parties would bear all procedural costs, including the fees of defense lawyers, if a case is dismissed as abusive. Individuals targeted by SLAPPs would also be eligible for compensatory damages.

“The anti-SLAPP directive proposed by the European Commission today is a major step forward in the fight against the use of 'gag suits' to intimidate and silence journalists,” media freedom organization Reporters Without Borders said.

To take effect, the proposal needs approval from EU member countries and from lawmakers in the European Parliament.

The directive covers SLAPPs in civil matters with cross-borders implications since the EU is not empowered to legislate on strictly national matters. The commission is recommending that member countries apply the proposed rules at the national level.

According to the commission, 439 physical and legal attacks against journalists and media workers took place in 24 EU countries last year.