Earlier in 2023, the Chamber of Advocates and aditus Foundation delivered an information session on the growing phenomenon of litigation aimed at stifling public participation, more commonly called SLAPPs.
Since that date, the European Parliament has approved a first draft of the Anti-SLAPP Directive (Directive 2022/0117), which was subsequently referred to the European Council – which in turn appears to favour a watered-down version of the proposed directive. The final text of the Directive is not yet approved, and will depend on the feedback received from the various member states if it is to be amended.
In October 2023 aditus foundation, togther with legal expert Dr. Michael Zammit Maempel, in collaboration with Malta Chamber of Advocates organsined a session open to all legal practitioners, journalists, as well as those working in the media and in organisations that aim to protect press freedom and the safety of journalists. Fr. Joe Borg intervened as an expert involved both in the education of future journalists at the University of Malta, and a former operator of a media organisation in Malta. Participants were also addressed by Herman Grech, who is currently the editor of the Times of Malta and who worked as a journalist on the ground for several years.
Dr. Zammit Maemple presented key provisions within the draft directive by comparing the original Commission proposal with the amendments suggested by both the European Parliament and the Council and their implications on Maltese law.
The particpants present discussed how the directive’s provisions could be implemented into Maltese law, and whether or not they will could be harmonised with existing legal principles. Furthermore, a number of issues arose as to the effectiveness, in practice, of the directive in addressing non-crossborder SLAPPs in Malta and the tools at hand to protect journalists from such threats. Practitioners also voiced concerns over the balance on the right of freedom of expression and that of having the right tools to effectively protect the reputation of good faith clients. The regulation of lawyers in relation to ethical standards in carrying out their profession was also a cause for discussion.
The industry speakers who addressed the event acknowleged the need for some regulation, however they also noted that the lack of capacity and the financial constraints on the media industry is at times more concerning that the risk of being SLAPPed. Fr. Joe explored how SLAPPs have changed the way the media does journalism, and how media houses adapted in going about their business. He also examined recent government media policy, as expressed through the proposed media law and whether this is help or hindrance. Mr. Herman Grech, editor of the Times of Malta, spoke about the day-to-day experience of journalists working on the ground. He explained the realities of investigative journalism, and he spoke of the existing legal support, both in terms of the law itself, and in terms of legal professionals. Furthermore, beyond talk of preventing SLAPPs, he explained what holds journalists back from doing more and the current environment that media houses and journalists are working in.
Going forward aditus, together with the legal expert hope to gather the feedback provided during this meeting to present to the Chamber of Advocates and other stakeholders.
The programme is available: https://www.avukati.org/event/slapp-event/.
The project Pioneering anti-SLAPP Training for Freedom of Expression (PATFox), co- funded by the European Commission, is pioneering the Europe’s first anti-SLAPP training, upskilling the lawyers representing journalists and human rights defenders against those litigating to shut down legitimate criticism in 11 EU member states (Spain, Germany, Malta, Bulgaria, Hungary, Croatia, Romania, Slovakia, Cyprus, Poland and Slovenia). aditus foundation is the Malta partner of the PATFox Consortium. For more information contact Carla Camilleri.