PN MP Jason Azzopardi had proposed a private member’s bill to ban the enforcement of overseas defamation suits in Maltese courts. This ‘anti-SLAPP’ legislation is adopted by jurisdictions protecting their journalists from the chilling effect of libel tourism used by rich corporations to silence their critics with lawsuits filed in jurisdictions too expensive to even defend.
The threat of complete destitution is often enough to have media houses take a step back. The Times of Malta, The Malta Independent and Malta Today all bowed to the pressure of the threat of SLAPPs from Pilatus Bank. The stories they removed are available on this website.
The Shift News was threatened with a SLAPP lawsuit by Henley& Partners but that website ignored the threat.
Pilatus Bank actually filed a SLAPP suit in Arizona against Daphne Caruana Galizia but withdrew it 8 hours after she was killed.
In spite of these incidents, or perhaps because of them, the government said the anti-SLAPP proposal by the opposition was not a priority for it.
Governments can ignore private members’ bills with the easy expedient of skipping Parliamentary sittings on Thursdays when they are supposed to be discussed.
But Parliament today is discussing in committee stage the government’s new press law and Jason Azzopardi has given notice he intends to propose the same anti-SLAPP provisions of his bill as amendments to the government’s press bill.
Will the government, who did not hesitate to strike down bill-boards protesting against them, also strike down a legal proposal intended to protect freedom of speech from a real and present danger just because it serves the interests of some of them to keep it there in the hope it might scare off journalists from investigating deeper into their crimes?