ii) Naming and Shaming
Moderating the event, Sarah Clarke, Head of Europe and Asia at Article 19, steered the discussion not only towards identifying challenges, but also to finding solutions to those challenges. “Naming and shaming,” she said, “of those firms that bring SLAPPs, is important as it ensures that their names are out there, and people know.”
The Bolloré campaign is one such move to name and shame entities that are notorious for using lawsuits to prevent coverage.
iii) Building a legal response mechanism: why an EU response is urgently needed
a) Harmonising the rules of jurisdiction:
As it stands now, European Union law encompassed in the Brussels I Regulation and the Rome II Regulation enables EU states to abuse defamation laws. Dr Justin Borg-Barthet based his submission to the discussion on his research on the topic, which was commissioned by ECPMF, Article 19, Committee to Protect journalists (CPJ), Reporters Without Borders (RSF), and PEN International. Borg-Barthet emphasised the need to change the rules on jurisdiction as to where one can be sued. He elaborated that defamation cases should be filed in the place where the defendant resides, unless the parties agree otherwise. If this rule is not changed, it will allow for claimants (those suing) to pursue cases in other jurisdictions. For example, this is the law that allowed Pilatus Bank, whose money-laundering activities Daphne was investigating, to sue her in the UK even though she lived in Malta.
b) Harmonising EU laws on SLAPP:
The need to harmonise EU laws on SLAPPs so as to make them predictable for the press, so that they can reasonably foresee where they will be expected to defend their stories, was also identified.
The absence of a common law on defamation creates legal uncertainty, and requires journalism on cross-border matters to apply, ‘the lowest common denominator of press freedoms,’”
said Justin Borg-Barthet.
c) Research study into the problem of SLAPPs:
Within the EU is important, and this was reiterated by most speakers. A study of national procedural and substantive laws in defamation cases is needed in order to develop a harmonised modus operandi, in the form of an EU Directive, which safeguards the basic standards of freedom of expression. This should be done with a view to discouraging vexatious litigation.
It is in this regard that ECPMF will continue to work the MEPs, universities, countries – within the EU and beyond – human rights and press and media freedom organisations to ensure SLAPPs are better understood and solutions are found that uphold freedom of expression. With this conclusion, further discussion and exploration of the SLAPP phenomenon was opened and will be explored, to not only make more and more people aware of SLAPPs, but also to find ways of preventing them and fighting against them.