SLAPPs are a form of legal harassment against critical voices, pursued by powerful individuals and organisations who seek to avoid public scrutiny. In 2017, the dramatic killing of Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who at the time of her assassination had 47 vexatious lawsuits pending against her, drew the attention of public opinion, civil society and policymakers to the magnitude of the SLAPP phenomenon in Europe. The anti-SLAPP movement which arose following her death engaged civil society organisations across Europe and has led to the issue of anti-SLAPP solutions being prioritised on the agenda of the EU and the Council of Europe. In April 2022, the EU Commission presented its anti-SLAPP Directive proposal while the Council of Europe is in the process of finalising a Recommendation addressing the same theme.
The objective of this panel was to highlight the phenomenon of SLAPPs at the national level, by zooming in two case studies examined, Serbia and Italy through the personal experiences of Bojana Jovanović, KRIK Deputy Editor, and Roberto Saviano, writer and author, and unpacking the anti-SLAPP developments at the European level, through the expertise of Sarah Clarke, head of ARTICLE 19 Europe and member of the CASE Steering Committee.
The dynamics of SLAPP phenomena in Serbia and Italy present a number of similarities. In both countries, we experience manifestly underfunded or exaggerated lawsuits in which the actors are high profile public figures. In both countries, investigative journalism dedicated to shedding light on the connections between politics and criminal organisations is frequently responded to with SLAPPs. In both countries, SLAPPs are mostly enabled by defamation lawsuits, both civil and criminal. Both Bojana Jovanović and Roberto Saviano have dedicated their work and life to projects unveiling the matrix of the long arm of criminal organisations and corruption and the entangling of national politics and crime. To be sure, both KRIK and Roberto have been suited by a number of politicians, as well as representatives of criminal organisations.
The European Commission's directive proposal as well as the steps taken by the Council of Europe towards the adoption of a set of recommendations, demonstrates that the increase in vexatious lawsuits is a phenomenon that does not only affect Serbia and Italy but the entire European continent. It reminded us of the need to have a solid legislation to counter those suits, and to deter them from being initiated. The degree of freedom accorded to political debate and criticism constitutes the very essence of democratic societies. The role of journalists as democracy watchdogs lays at the heart of the participation of the society in public affairs. The legal cases examined by this panel are a reminder that freedom of expression is a right that cannot be taken for granted, and it is central not only to media practitioners, but to society as a whole.
Defamation and Libel
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