On the 4th May 2021, Media Defence hosted a free webinar to discuss the use of abusive litigation to silence journalists around the world. The webinar featured as part of UNESCO’s World Press Freedom Day and you can watch it, in full, above.
In Brazil, journalist and author João Paulo Cuenca became the defendant in more than 140 lawsuits. Pastors from the Universal Church of the Kingdom of Christ, a huge multinational organisation, filed these suits all over the country. In Poland, Media Defence is providing emergency support to Grzegorz Rzeczkowski, an investigative journalist with the prominent political weekly Polityka. Rzeczkowski is facing multiple lawsuits for his reporting on the “wiretapping scandal”, which rocked Polish politics in 2014.
These are examples of Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation – otherwise known as “gag lawsuits”. SLAPP lawsuits are used to censor and intimidate critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defence until they abandon their opposition. These suits are not only aimed at media outlets, but individual journalists, who have been targeted in their personal capacity. Many of these journalists face heavy fines, bans from journalism, and even custodial sentences as a result of baseless legal claims. This type of litigation is designed to drain resources and chill critical reporting, and is becoming increasingly common across Europe and around the world.
Media Defence, as part of the Coalition Against SLAPPs in Europe, is committed to defending and protecting journalists from this kind of persecution. This event aimed to raise awareness of this form of censorship, and share expertise on how best to counter it. Our panellists have a wealth of experience of SLAPPs, both personally and professionally, and discussed how this type of litigation has been used in their region.
- Pedro Vaca Villarreal, Colombian lawyer and Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
- João Paulo Cuenca, Brazilian writer and journalist
- Ana Bejarano, Co-director of Colombian NGO, El Veinte, and law professor at Los Andes University
- Emmanuel Vargas, Co-director of El Veinte and Legal and Grants Officer at Media Defence
- Joanna Connolly, Legal Officer at Media Defence and liaison with the Coalition Against SLAPPs in Europe
El Veinte is an NGO dedicated to studying and countering legal harassment against journalists, media outlets and social media users in Colombia. El Veinte provides support through its pro bono network, strategic litigation, and capacity building. In 2021, El Veinte has been working on drafting policy and legislative proposals to adopt legal safeguards against SLAPPs in Colombia. (https://www.elveinte.org/, or follow on Twitter @elveinteorg).
UNESCO has released a new report on “The “misuse” of the judicial system to attack freedom of expression”. The report takes an in-depth look at the patterns and challenges surrounding the rise of abusive litigation, and makes a number of recommendations. To mark its release, we explore our own experience tackling legal threats to freedom […]
Lawmakers, academics and citizens are becoming increasingly aware of the threat posed by disinformation and malinformation. ‘Disinformation’ refers to falsehoods spread deliberately to stoke distrust or promote an agenda. It is a widespread issue, overshadowing elections everywhere from Brazil to the USA, fuelling hate speech, such as in India, and impacting stock prices around the […]
This article was written by Esma Yasar, a Kurdish lawyer working for Media Defence’s partner organisation TOHAV. Esma Yasar took part in Media Defence’s fellowship programme, which hosts human rights lawyers from our funded partner organisations all over the world. Freedom of Expression and Press Freedom in Turkey Turkey is one of the most restrictive […]