European Federation of Journalists

OSCE Report: Legal Harassment and abuse of the judicial system against the media

Credits: CANVA

On 23 November 2021, the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation) Europe Office of the Representative on Freedom of the Media (RfoM) launched a report titled “Legal Harassment and abuse of the judicial system against the media”. The report’s aim is to underline the risks associated with the journalistic profession, and discusses the effects of legal procedures, underlining the problematic nature of the abuse of the judicial system against media workers. It shares examples of cases where the law was being misused to prevent media workers, including journalists, from doing their work or as “a means of retaliation for their unwanted investigations or reporting”.

The report states the various ways the misuse of the law is a threat to journalists. Administrative sanctions, criminal prosecutions and the threat of SLAPPs are cited as menaces to media freedom. The document focuses on the three topics that are currently the most worrying: extremism and terrorism, defamation law and the abuse of private law. 

“Malicious prosecution, aimed at silencing journalists, has become one of the most serious threats to press freedom in Europe,” reacted the EFJ General Secretary Ricardo Gutiérrez. “The European Union, which is currently working on anti-SLAPP legislation, should set an example by adopting a directive that sanctions the abuse of such prosecutions, not only in the cross-border context but also and above all in the national context. We strongly call on the EU to regulate these abuses at the level of each State and we call on the OSCE participating States to be inspired by this EU anti-SLAPP legislation.”

Extremism and terrorism-related charges

There is, in the OSCE countries, a growing tendency of governments to use charges of “extremism” or “terrorism” against journalists. The authorities have the responsibility to ensure the free circulation of information and the creation of an environment favorable to media pluralism.

Defamation law

A significant number of charges against media workers or media outlets are based either on libel or on slander. The RfoM advocates for the removal of defamation law with a possible intermediate step to move defamation from criminal law to their administrative law statuses if and when the relevant provisions have “a much less punitive effect” and do not include any form of detention.

Abuse of private law

The abuse of private law refers to any type of legal harassment through private law. Such legal harassment usually starts with sending a threatening legal communication and can be followed by a series of lawsuits. The abuse of private law is often referred to as SLAPPs (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation). These types of claims often have in common a disparity in power and resources between the claimant and the respondent. The RfoM advocates for the creation of regulations to prevent abusive litigations.

Read the full report herehere.