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New laws, SLAPPs and libel tourism threaten press freedom

Press-ECPMF

19 March 2021

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By Jane Whyatt

New laws and decrees in the name of battling the COVID-19 pandemic or terrorism threaten press freedom in Europe. At the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) Summit online, Sarah Massoud of the French Magistrates’ Association discussed three new legal instruments: the national scheme for maintaining public order, the Global Security Law and the so-called law on separatism. She characterised  them as “liberty killers”. Read more details here of the Global Security Law.

Equally sharp was the criticism of Albania’s draft Anti-Defamation Law presented in the MFRR Summit by Besar Likmeta of the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network. After two years of international opposition to this draconian proposal, it has still not been enacted by Parliament – despite attempts by Prime Minister Edi Rama to get it onto the statute book. Besar commented:

”The importance of media freedom is quintessential. If we co-operate across borders, we can make it difficult for illiberal governments.”

And he noted that scrutiny of the draft law by the European Union’s Venice Commission, as well as work by the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom and civil society actors in Albania, have been important in resisting this law.

 

Digital rights expert Dr Yaman Akdeniz revealed that the new Social Media Law in Turkey has resulted in thousands of individual social media accounts and those belonging to independent media have been blocked. They include high-profile critics of the government such as Can Dündar, the former editor of Cumhurriyet, now exiled in Germany. Dr Akdeniz warned that the new law requiring Twitter and other channels to establish a legal base in Turkey will lead to further restrictions and financial penalties. You can read an analysis of the Social Media Law in English and Turkish.

 

Standing up to SLAPPs

 

SLAPPs (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) are abusive lawsuits by the powerful, wealthy and thin-skinned to intimidate and silence critical journalists and others acting in the public interest. At the Summit, Slovenian investigative journalist Primož Cirman, of the Necenzurirano news portal described the crippling effect of such legal actions on their work. ‘Necenzurirano’ means ‘uncensored’ in Slovenian. Yet because three members of the editorial staff have each been sued 13 times, making a total of 39 court cases in all, they have to dedicate  time and funds to fight these lawsuits  that could have been spent on  investigative journalism.

“The aim of SLAPPs is to drain you – financially, professionally and even emotionally”

he commented. Thanks to help from the Media Freedom Rapid Response, the news portal was saved from almost certain closure due to these pressures.

 

Piotr Pacewicz, the editor of OKO.Press – a critical voice in the Polish media landscape – echoed this sense of an overwhelming legal burden.

The rich and powerful people who abuse defamation and other laws to prevent critical reporting operate internationally, as Maria Ordzhonikidze of the Justice for Journalists Foundation (JFJ) pointed out in the Summit: “Libel tourism is a reason why we are getting more SLAPPs in Europe”. JFJ works with ECPMF to document and verify SLAPP cases across Europe, and to support the media workers on the receiving end.

Read all about our international campaign to outlaw SLAPPs and defend independent and investigative journalism against these abuses. The Media Freedom Rapid Response Summit continues tomorrow. Find full details of all the panel debates and workshops and register for the final sessions by clicking here.

  

 

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