EUobserver under attack in wider battle for EU free press

Sallie Anderson

If EU residents need to know the truth, then European reporters need defense from destructive lawsuits, as EUobserver signed up with the list of targets, over a post about the late Maltese reporter Daphne Caruana Galizia.

That was the message from 16 pro-free press advocacy groups, who signed a letter of assistance for this website after it came under fire from a former spy and his billionaire customer.

  • Frank Schneider utilized to be head of operations at the Service de Renseignement de l’État Luxembourgeois (Picture:

The former spy, Frank Schneider, who now runs a private- intelligence company in Luxembourg called Sandstone, utilized to be head of operations at the grand duchy’s security service, the Service de Renseignement de l’État Luxembourgeois.

The billionaire is an Iraqi magnate, Nadhmi Auchi, who co-owns Sandstone.

And Sandstone is pursuing EUobserver, an independent news firm in Brussels, after this website reported, in 2015, that Schneider was linked in a disinformation campaign about Caruana Galizia, who was assassinated in 2017 for her investigative journalism.

Luxembourg courts just recently tossed out Schneider’s “criminal libel” case.

However Sandstone informed a Luxembourg-based publication,, that it would prosecute versus EUobserver in Belgium in future.

It was uncertain, since Friday (26 June), whether Sandstone had actually submitted a criminal or civil case in this website’s home nation.

It was likewise uncertain if Schneider implied to make great on his hazard, or to leave it hanging in the air.

In any case, Sandstone’s actions met the description of what free-press supporters have actually called “SLAPPs” – tactical suits versus public involvement – according to the Flemish reporters’ association in Belgium, the Vlaamse Vereniging van Journalisten (VVJ).

SLAPPs usually included effective people, who assaulted little media or freelancers, and who looked for inflated fines on lightweight premises, a VVJ legal consultant, Charlotte Michils, stated.

And Sandstone was simply the current in a line of previous attacks in Belgium, she kept in mind.

In some circumstances, SLAPPs “never ever made them [journalists] reconsider prior to publishing, however made them even more extremely inspired to keep the public notified,” Michils stated.

Belgian courts likewise had a strong track record of safeguarding democracy and press flexibility, she added.

However even in best-case circumstances, SLAPPs, which typically dragged out for years, drained pipes victims’ resources.

“You have to spend time and energy talking to lawyers and experts and you probably won’t sleep the night before your court hearing,” Michils stated.

In other circumstances, SLAPPs triggered excessive retractions of true stories or other self-censorship.

” Reporters are inadequately paid, work long hours, with couple of resources at their disposal, experience big quantities of tension and problem to get a story that’s in the public interest reported, and after that, on top of that, they need to handle violent legal hazards like the one by Sandstone [against EUobserver],” Matthew Caruana Galizia, among Daphne’s children, who is likewise director of the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation for journalism in Valetta, stated.

The attack on EUobserver triggered a wave of uniformity.

The Maltese foundation, the European Federation of Reporters in Brussels, the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the European Centre for Press and Media Flexibility (ECPMF) in Leipzig, Germany, and the New-York based Committee to Safeguard Reporters (CPJ), were amongst the 16 groups who signed the letter of assistance.

International reporters at EU top in Brussels (Picture: Consilium).

Buckling down

They got included due to the fact that the problem was larger than EUobserver, Luxembourg, Belgium, or any single EU state.

There were over 1,100 pending suits in Croatia versus reporters by political leaders, public figures, and corporations at the end of 2019, for circumstances, according to the Council of Europe, a human rights guard dog in Strasbourg, France.

Malta was another EU blackspot.

“It shouldn’t be possible for powerful and wealthy individuals in Malta to abuse their power and the law, to file 20 libel cases against a single journalist in one go, as one person did to my mother,” Matthew Caruana Galizia stated.

His late mom, Daphne, was dealing with 47 continuous suits, on 16 October 2017, when a car bomb nabbed her life.

“On top of that, they continue to fight these cases against my family, as her heirs, following her murder,” he added, in what Matthew called a”legal atrocity”


However SLAPPs were likewise swarming in EU heartland countries, such as France and Italy, along with in Ireland and the UK, according to a continuous research study by the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, pointed out by the ECPMF.

And they were targeting anti-corruption NGOs and ecologists, along with reporters.

In France, for circumstances, Vincent Bolloré, a billionaire industrialist, has actually submitted more than 20 SLAPPs versus ngos and reporters who attempted to examine his companies in Africa, the RSF’s Julie Majerczak kept in mind.

“He does it systematically,” she stated.

The growing hazard, likewise in the United States, just recently captured the attention of a prime-time TELEVISION comic,John Oliver


However the chilling impact of SLAPPs on free press was no joke, VVJ, the Flemish reporters’ association in Belgium, kept in mind.

“This is getting serious,” the trade union’s Michils stated.

” All Belgian insurer just recently declined to offer cumulative cover for our members, who are reporters, due to the financial threat [of SLAPPs],” she kept in mind.

“Now, journalists have to take out individual cover, which is more expensive,” she stated.

EU worths commissioner Vera Jourová doing “analysis” on anti-SLAPP regulation (Picture:

Surprise damage

Since many of them unfolded in secret,

The SLAPP wars were likewise larger than any research study might determine.

“The cases that actually go to court are the tip of the iceberg,” RSF’s Majerczak stated.

“Most small media or freelancers back down as soon as they get a lawyer’s letter because they cannot afford the legal costs involved,” she kept in mind.

“Journalists rarely go public the way EUobserver has courageously done,” Matthew Caruana Galizia stated.

” The public can’t see the damage [of SLAPPs],” headded


“They have no way of knowing that reporting has been prevented or taken offline. They don’t realise that corrupt deals, human rights violations, and ethical failures have taken place,” he stated.

For her part, the EU worths commissioner, Věra Jourová, has actually voiced interest in SLAPPs in the past.

However the problem required “deeper analysis” prior to she took actions, her spokesperson informed EUobserver today.

” The [European] Commission is currently checking out the concern and preparing such an analysis to figure out the very best method to resolve this concern at European level,” Jourová’s spokesperson stated.

Some MEPs, such as German Green Viola von Cramon-Taubadel and Romanian liberal Ramona Strugariu, have actually likewise called for brand-new laws.

For them and the advocacy groups, Jourová ought to start preparing an anti-SLAPP regulation as soon as she returned from her summertime vacation in August.

The effective and abundant had a right to safeguard their track records, EUobserver’s buddies stated.

However the brand-new EU law should mandate judges in member mentions to rapidly throw away manifestly violent cases and to enforce sanctions on abusers.

Other reforms ought to likewise suppress so called ‘legislation and forum-shopping’ in Europe, in which bullies were free to select which EU jurisdiction or codex fit them best to release their attacks, they added.

The EU currently had a whistleblower defense regulation, which might serve as a design, RSF kept in mind.

California, a United States state, and Canada likewise had anti-SLAPP laws that Jourová might want to, VVJ, the Flemish reporters’ union, stated.

Matthew Caruana Galizia (l) and his sibling, Andrew (Picture:

Public interest

“It should not be possible for someone who wants to bully a journalist in Malta into silence to file a libel case against them in the UK, threatening to ruin them financially over a single story,” Matthew Caruana Galizia stated.

In the meantime, the NGOs’ letter offered ethical assistance to this website and other targets.

“As a press freedom community, we can act in solidarity with outlets or individuals,” the CPJ’s Tom Gibson stated.

However if EU residents desired compelling stories that held effective people to account, then member states, such as Belgium or Germany, where press were still free, ought to likewise show uniformity with locations, such as Croatia or Malta, where reporters were on the edge, advocates stated.

” If in one [EU] nation reporters do not attempt to compose honestly about specific issues, due to the fact that they hesitate of lawsuits, this triggers issues for our whole [European] Union,” von Cramon-Taubadel, the German MEP, stated.

“SLAPPs … deter journalists from publishing public-interest information, revealing serious wrongdoing,” Strugariu, the Romanian MEP, added.

“People have a right to understand about corruption and we desire that right to be enhanced with an [EU] anti-SLAPP regulation,” Matthew Caruana Galizia stated.

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