A new UK taskforce has been set up to tackle the use of legal challenges – or SLAPPs – as a means to shut down investigative journalism.
A new SLAPPs taskforce, set up by the UK’s culture, media and sport department, has been welcomed by the country’s News Media Association, which is among members.
The taskforce intends to build on anti-SLAPP measures recently built into the Economic Crime Bill, with the view to entirely ban the practice of SLAPPs in UK courts and thereby protect all public interest journalism.
SLAPPs – or strategic lawsuits against public participation – are a tool used by wealthy individuals to intimidate and financially burden those who seek to expose wrongdoing. The lawsuits threaten the defendant with exorbitant legal costs, making it difficult for them to defend themselves against the claim. Examples have included the use by Russian oligarchs to silence journalists, often by making false claims of defamation and invasion of privacy. “This prevents the publication of information that is in the public interest,” a government spokesperson said.
The taskforce will bring together media and legal experts from across both industries to drive forward “measures to protect public interest journalism.”
Culture secretary Lucy Frazer says when appointed, she had vowed to stand up for independent voices and nurture a thriving media landscape which upholds and champions fearless truth telling.
“SLAPPs have led to journalists having to crowdfund their legal fees and some have even been forced to sell their homes – simply for doing their job.”
NMA legal director Sayra Tekin welcomed the group’s inclusion on the taskforce. “This marks a significant step in tackling the scourge of strategic litigation aimed at crushing freedom of expression and the work of journalists.”
Organisations in membership of the taskforce are: The National Union of Journalists, Index on Censorship, The Society of Editors, Reporters Without Borders, The News Media Association, The Solicitors Regulation Authority, The Bar Council, The Bar Standards Board, The Law Society of England and Wales, The Media Lawyers Association, The Foreign Policy Centre, English PEN, and the Publishers Association.