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Call for Italian political forces to take a stand against SLAPPs

ECPMF

20 September 2022

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The right of citizens to be informed about matters of public interest and of journalists to write freely about them cannot and must not be hindered by SLAPPs. Civil society’s appeal to the future parliament to promote measures to contrast strategic lawsuits

 

SLAPPs (Strategic lawsuits against public participation) aim at silencing journalists, activists, whistleblowers, and anyone who sheds light on matters of public interest. SLAPPs are a true violation of the right of citizens to be informed and freedom of expression. SLAPPs also pose serious restrictions on democratic participation as they deprive the public debate of voices reporting on issues of public interest. The explicit goal of those who carry out legal actions against journalists and activists dealing with e.g. corruption, abuse of power, and environmental issues is to silence them – a threat to freedom of expression and the right to report.

 

The use of SLAPPs is widespread in Italy. The legal tool most commonly employed to instigate SLAPP cases is defamation, both civil and criminal. However, the right to privacy and the right to be forgotten are also misused to prevent the disclosure of inconvenient information. Often, legal threats even precede the publication of the investigation, triggering mechanisms of self-censorship.

 

The Italian Parliament has already been urged to abide by the recent Constitutional Court rulings on the issue of defamation. The Court, in fact, intervened with a decision in 2020 and a ruling in 2021 on the issue of the constitutionality of prison sentences for journalists in cases of press defamation, calling on the Parliament to remove the rules that provide for incarceration – except for cases of ‘exceptional gravity’ – and to promote a wide-ranging reform of the relevant legislation. Such a reform, which has remained stagnant and obstructed in previous legislatures, is necessary in order to hopefully reach an “effective balance between freedom of expression and the protection of reputation”, as the Court emphasised in 2021.

 

At the European level, last April the European Commission presented its response to the problem by drafting a two-pronged document: a directive on transnational cases, which will now have to follow its approval process between the EU Council and the European Parliament, and a recommendation with immediate but non-binding effect, which gathers precise indications to be applied in national cases. This was possible also thanks to an intense mobilisation of the Coalition against SLAPP in Europe (CASE), which gathers more than 40 European civil society organisations committed to combating SLAPPs.

 

European Commission Vice-President Vera Jourova calls the directive under discussion “Daphne’s law”, to remember Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, killed in 2017 while being targeted with several legal proceedings, and whose tragic story helped to raise attention to the issue. The presentation of the proposal at European level was celebrated as a moment of historic significance, an achievement unthinkable until a few years ago.

 

This heritage must not be lost.

 

The European initiative should propel the urgent adoption of measures to protect SLAPP victims in Italy as well. Now it is up to the next Italian Parliament and Government to do their part. In view of the vote on 25 September, the signatories of this appeal ask all the candidates in the forthcoming elections and the political forces for a public commitment to support during the next legislature, in the European and national fora, the adoption of measures, within and beyond the legislative realm, to counter SLAPP.

 

Specifically, we call for:

 

  • the introduction of the issue of SLAPP as a priority on the Italian political agenda;
  • the launch of a comprehensive legal reform on defamation, both criminal and civil, in line with recent Constitutional Court rulings and the standards of international law on freedom of expression;
  • the introduction of a procedure for the timely dismissal of legal actions classifiable as SLAPP;
  •  the establishment of punitive and deterrent sanctions for SLAPP perpetrators;
  • the systematic and independent data collection and monitoring of intimidating legal acts by institutions in cooperation with civil society;
  • the continuation of the parliamentary intergroup dealing with information, media, and journalism and the effective engagement of its members in combating SLAPPs;
  • the implementation without delay of the guidelines contained in the European Recommendation for national cases;
  • the support, in the European fora, of the proposed anti-SLAPP Directive presented by the European Commission on 27 April 2022.

 

Thanks to an active network throughout Europe, civil society has made a fundamental contribution in formulating responses to prevent reckless lawsuits from restricting free expression, participation, and democracy. We will continue to advocate for the proposed measures to be adopted.

 

The appeal is open to all organisations and individuals who share these demands. List constantly being updated here.

Signed:

Osservatorio Balcani Caucaso Transeuropa

Articolo 21

Transparency International Italia

ARTICLE 19 Europe

Environmental Paper Network

Greenpeace Italia

European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)

European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)

Federazione Nazionale Stampa Italiana

International Press Institute (IPI)

Festival dei Diritti Umani

Associazione Italiana Medici per l’Ambiente (ISDE)

info.nodes

Lega Italiana Antivivisezione (LAV)

Ordine dei Giornalisti

Parliament Watch Italia

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