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SLAPP – a Global Legal Problem That, If Unchecked, Could Stifle Freedom of Expression

SLAPP – a Global Legal Problem That, If Unchecked, Could Stifle Freedom of Expression

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History shows that the last bastion of freedom of speech, which guarantees these values, is the free press. But it’s no secret that since 2015, key constitutional values have been in crisis. Over the past three years, there have been repeated legal actions by state institutions, state-owned companies, businessmen and other lobbying organizations aimed at stifling the work of journalists, publishers and NGOs.

This is typically occurs via the initiation of frivolous legal proceedings, used solely to intimidate and silence journalists by forcing them into a time-consuming and costly defense against groundless accusations. Figures indicate that more than 90 percent of pleadings that are levelled against clients in the media sector may now qualify as SLAPPs (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation).

In our daily work on behalf of a leading media company in Poland and the journalists working there, we make sure that our client’s business objectives and its role in society are consistently fulfilled.

Active and effective defense of the media

Individuals in the public eye often are opposed to journalists making public statements or accusations which may be damaging to their reputation, including bribery, embezzlement of public money, controversial military procurement, questionable reprivatization, reorganization of the justice system, or discharge of toxic chemicals into local water supplies or rivers.

In these situations, lawsuits or indictments can be filed with the intention of silencing these critical voices and preventing journalists from investigating and disclosing information in the public interest.

We actively participate in the defense of media and journalists who have the courage to report irregularities regardless of the consequences that follow.

Anti-SLAPP methods: how can we help?

We uphold the right to the freedom of information and the freedom of speech. We believe that journalists must follow their calling with integrity, to inform society regarding any suspicious or questionable activities or irregularities, and so we effectively defend against SLAPP attacks.

We are campaigning and lobbying for the introduction of anti-SLAPP regulations. Following the example of the US, Canada, and Australia gained through 20 years of experience in media disputes, we have developed a legal mechanism that allows defendants to seek discontinuance of proceedings due to identifying and classifying the nature of the original lawsuit as a SLAPP.

Our efforts are consistently geared towards influencing the EU to finally produce a solid proposal on the topic of SLAPPs, including introducing a system of anti-SLAPP motions in all Member States.

Such a bill is being drafted based on a directive of the European Parliament and the Council on the protection of persons who engage in public debate from patently groundless or abusive legal proceedings, with legislation expected to come into force in 2024.

In today’s world, it is hard to see Poland readily implementing such a directive into its domestic legal system. The safeguards provided by the directive blatantly devalue the power of legal instruments routinely used by state authorities and others, on which the de facto implementation of the directive depends.

However, this does not change the fact that, in light of the case law of the Court of Justice of the European Union, if a country fails to implement this directive, a citizen has the right to invoke the directive directly against any provisions of national law that do not comply with the directive.

By Mateusz Ostrowski, Partner, Bartłomiej Galos, Junior Associate, Kochanski & Partners

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