Protecting Public Watchdogs across the EU: A Proposal for an EU Anti-SLAPP Law

December 07, 2020
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Strategic Litigation against Public Participation or 'SLAPP' suits are increasingly used by the powerful to avoid public scrutiny and stifle democratic debate. The undersigned organisations, including WIN, are calling for EU policymakers to protect the journalists, rights defenders, activists and whistleblowers that hold the powerful to account.

The full proposal is available here

A Call For Action

This paper was drafted1 at the initiative of a coalition of non-governmental organisations from across Europe that have been working together over the past years to raise awareness and urge policy makers to protect public watchdogs such as journalists, rights defenders, activists and whistleblowers from Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs).2

SLAPP suits are a form of legal harassment. Pursued by law firms on behalf of powerful individuals and organisations who seek to avoid public scrutiny, their aim is to drain the target’s financial and psychological resources and chill critical voices to the detriment of public participation.

Currently, no EU country has enacted targeted rules that specifically shield against SLAPP suits. EU-wide rules providing for strong and consistent protection against SLAPP suits would mark a crucial step forward towards ending this abusive practice in EU Member States and serve as a benchmark for countries in the rest of Europe and beyond. Together with other legislative and non-legislative measures, it would contribute to secure a safer environment for public watchdogs and public participation in the EU.

This is why civil society has engaged a wide range of experts including academics, lawyers, practitioners, SLAPP targets and policy and advocacy specialists, to look into the value added, the feasibility and the key components of possible EU anti-SLAPP legislation.

This paper is the result of this collaborative work: a model EU anti-SLAPP law proposing a set of rules which, if in place, would make sure that in each EU country SLAPPs are dismissed at an early stage of proceedings, SLAPP litigants pay for abusing the law and the courts, and SLAPP targets are given means and assistance to defend themselves. As democracy and the rule of law come increasingly under pressure in a number of EU countries, this paper supports the call on EU policymakers by the undersigned organisations to urgently put forward an EU anti-SLAPP Directive to protect public watchdogs that help hold the powerful to account and keep the democratic debate alive. 

1. This paper was authored by an expert working group composed of dr. Linda Maria Ravo, expert consultant to the Civil Liberties Union for Europe (Lead Author and Principal Investigator), dr. Justin Borg-Barthet, Senior Lecturer, Centre for Private International Law, University of Aberdeen (Co-Investigator) and Prof. dr. Xandra Kramer, professor at Erasmus School of Law, Erasmus University Rotterdam and at the Faculty of Law, Economics and Governance of Utrecht University (Co-Investigator). The authors are thankful to specialist practitioners and scholars who acted as peer reviewers of the text. The usual disclaimer applies. 

2. The initiative was financially supported by Article 19, the Civil Liberties Union for Europe, the Committee to Protect Journalists, the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, the European Federation of Journalists, Free Press Unlimited, Greenpeace European Unit, the International Press Institute, NGO Shipbreaking Platform, Pen International and Reporters Without Borders. 

ARTICLE 19  Hungarian Helsinki Committee (HHC) 
Articolo21, liberi di... IFEX 
Association of European Journalists (AEJ) ILGA-Europe (European region of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association) 
Association of European Journalists (AEJBelgium) Index on Censorship 
Associazione Stampa Romana International Media Support (IMS) 
Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC) International Press Institute (IPI) 
Centre for Peace Studies  Justice and Environment (J&E) 
Civil Liberties Union for Europe (Liberties)  Media Defence  
Civil Rights Defenders  Media Diversity Institute (MDI)  
Civil Society Europe  NGO Shipbreaking Platform 
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)  OMCT (World Organisation Against Torture), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders 
The Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation  Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) 
D.i.Re Donne in rete contro la violenza, Italy (network of women’s crisis centres)  Osservatorio Balcani Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT) 
Earth League International (ELI)  Ossigeno per l’informazione 
EUobserver  Oživení  
European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)   PEN International  
European Civic Forum  Pištaljka 
European Environmental Bureau (EEB)  Platform for Independent Journalism (P24) 
European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)  Reporters Without Borders (RSF) 
FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders  Rights International Spain (RIS) 
Forum Trentino per la Pace e i Diritti Umani  Sindacato Cronisti Romani (Regional Journalists’ Union, Italy) 
FNSI, Federazione Nazionale Stampa Italiana (The Union of Italian Journalists)  Sindacato Giornalisti del Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol (Regional Journalists’ Union, Italy) 
Free Press Unlimited (FPU)   South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO) 
Global Forum for Media Development (GFMD)  SpeakOut SpeakUp Ltd (United Kingdom) 
Greenpeace EU Unit  The Good Lobby 
Government Accountability Project  Towarzystwo Dziennikarskie, Poland (Society of Journalists) 
Guardian News and Media Limited   Transparency International EU  
Human Rights Centre “Antonio Papisca”, University of Padova, Italy  Umweltinstitut München
Human Rights House Foundation (HRHF)   UNESCO Chair “Human Rights, Democracy and Peace”, University of Padova 
Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU)  Whistleblowing International Network
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