European Federation of Journalists

The Coalition Against SLAPPs in Europe adopted Declaration at first European conference

On the occasion of the first European Anti-SLAPP Conference on 20 October 2022, the Coalition Against SLAPPs in Europe (CASE), of which the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) is a member, adopted a declaration calling on governments across Europe to take immediate legislative and practical action to protect journalists and other public watchdogs from the growing threat of Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs).

The first European Anti-SLAPP conference took place in Strasbourg (France) and was opened by Roberta Metsola, President of the European Parliament, Vera Jourova, Vice-President of the European Commission, Marija Pejčinović Burić, Secretary General of the Council of Europe and Dunja Mijatović, Commissioner for Human Rights at the Council of Europe. Discussions explored the European and national initiatives against SLAPPs, as well as practical support for journalists. CASE also announced the winners of the second-ever European SLAPP contest.

SLAPPs are abusive lawsuits that operate through the litigation and pre-litigation process to silence critical speech, shut down accountability, and undermine democratic rights. Typically pursued by the rich and powerful, SLAPPs misuse and abuse power and privilege by threatening or taking legal action to silence minority or critical voices, creating a chilling effect on public participation.

The assassination of Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who at the time of her murder was facing 47 SLAPPs, exposed the growing problem of vexatious or malicious lawsuits facing journalists and other public watchdogs across Europe. Since her murder, we have come together from across Europe to create the Coalition Against SLAPPs in Europe (CASE), an umbrella coalition now party to dozens of non-governmental organisations. Today we commit to continuing to fight for the three aims of CASE: to expose SLAPPs and those who use them, to build resilience to SLAPPs, and to advocate for law reform to prevent SLAPPs.

CASE maps the nature, scale, and scope of SLAPPs in Europe. Our March 2022 report found a rising cumulative trend of SLAPPs in Europe since 2015. Our annual European SLAPP Contest exposes corporate and political bullies and countries where SLAPPs run riot. Through our legal and national working groups, we are building the resilience of civil society to threats of SLAPPs and developing a network of legal specialists at the national level to advise watchdogs facing SLAPPs. We are facilitating the formation of national level working groups across Europe to tackle SLAPPs in domestic law and practice.

Through our advocacy efforts, there has been growing recognition of the need to tackle SLAPPs at the international, regional, and national levels. CASE is encouraged to see that the core components of the CASE model directive, as well as the safeguards we have been advocating for over the past years, have fed into the European Commission’s anti-SLAPP initiative launched in April 2022. We welcomed the initiative as a crucial first step forward in tackling the growing problem of abusive litigation targeting journalists, activists, and other public watchdogs across Europe. The initiative is particularly important in its protection against cross-border claims which are interpreted broadly. We also welcome the Council of Europe’s work on drafting a recommendation of the Committee of Ministers to Member States on the protection of journalists and other public watchdogs from SLAPPs and the September 2022 United Nations Human Rights Council’s Resolution, which urges all States to adopt laws and policies related to SLAPPS, notably those that allow for early dismissal, limit the damages claimed, permit a public interest defence, and provide legal support to victims. At the national level, we welcome initiatives from at least four countries to introduce Anti-SLAPP laws.

Now is the moment for governments to deliver concrete and immediate action to work towards the strongest possible set of anti-SLAPP rules. – In line with international standards and government’s commitments relating to the right to freedom of expression and information, the positive obligation to ensure a safe and enabling environment for participation in public debate by everyone and recognising that questions of public interest cover all issues that affect and concern the public and that the public has a right to be informed about matters of public interest; – Recognising that everyone has the right to a fair trial and the right to an effective remedy when their rights have been violated, but that this right cannot be stretched to include misuse or abuse of legislation or legislative process to strategically thwart public participation;

The Anti-SLAPP Declaration includes a call to action with concrete recommendations for:

  • The European Union
  • The Council of Europe
  • The European Parliament
  • EU Member States
  • All governments

The full declaration can be downloaded here and the recording of the conference can be watched on Youtube.