Press freedom in Italy: those in power are not…

Press freedom in Italy: those in power are not to be criticised

In 2021, then opposition leader Giorgia Meloni sued Roberto Saviano for defamation. Last October, the Rome Criminal Court issued a sentence against the Italian writer. A ruling that alarmed Italian and European civil society. We had a conversation about it with Antonio Nobile, Saviano’s lawyer.


By Sielke Kelner

Originally published by OBCT. Also available in ITA

The defamation lawsuit filed by Giorgia Meloni against Italian writer Roberto Saviano has ended with a first-degree criminal conviction issued by Rome Criminal Court. The judge convicted Saviano of criminal defamation, acknowledging, however, mitigating circumstances: the moral motivation that, according to the Court, led Roberto Saviano to formulate his criticism. While the prosecutor had asked for the writer to pay a fine of 10,000 euros, the criminal court reduced this to 1,000 euros. The verdict was met with dismay by Italian and European civil society. The involvement of a high-level public figure, specifically the Prime Minister acting as plaintiff, along with the public interest nature of the dispute concerning the rescues of migrants in the Mediterranean Sea by NGOs, has raised significant concerns regarding Italian freedom of expression. According to MFRR and CASE, Meloni’s lawsuit is a SLAPP. They also argue that the verdict sets a dangerous precedent that could facilitate further attempts to silence public watchdogs criticizing political leaders. We discussed this with Antonio Nobile, Saviano’s lawyer. Nobile is a criminal defense lawyer registered at the Naples Bar Association, he also acts as an expert in criminal procedural law at the University of Southern Lazio.


From the perspective of a criminal defense lawyer, what are the consequences of this verdict on press freedom and freedom of expression in Italy?

First and foremost, the immediate effects are on Saviano, who has a defamation conviction on his criminal record, which is damaging for a political intellectual. Additionally, from the beginning, this trial has had a strong symbolic element. This legal action and the decision to pursue it even when Meloni became Prime Minister [when the lawsuit was filed she was the leader of the political opposition] have a symbolic value because the individuals involved are very well-known. Saviano is a very well-known Italian intellectual, in Italy and abroad. If someone wanted to dispatch a clear message, then Saviano was the ideal target. The consequences for the rule of law are immediately measurable starting from a technical consideration: the whole jurisprudence produced by the ECtHR which has recognized investigative and political journalists as public watchdogs.


Have we experienced a deterioration of Italian freedom of press and expression in recent years? 

The state of affairs is worrying because this trial represents a worsening drift. I have been defending Saviano for almost 15 years now, and over the years Saviano has faced numerous lawsuits. The only two criminal lawsuits which have not been dismissed during preliminary investigations, were those in which the plaintiffs were Giorgia Meloni and Matteo Salvini. If we want to consider free expression, even in relation to a sharp and strong criticism, as a sort test of the health of democracy, then indeed, this conviction is bad news. The way in which the entire process has been managed is bad news.


During the hearing last October, the prosecutor argued that calling a politician a bastard does not fall under the exercise of harsh political criticism, it rather constitutes an attack on the person. Why does the insult formulated by Saviano not represent an attack on reputation?

It is not an attack on reputation because when talking about defamation in connection to the right to criticize, it is important to assess the context of the criticism. The prosecutor’s conclusions would have made sense if, during an interview, Saviano had gratuitously and casually called Meloni a bastard. Moreover, those conclusions of the Prosecutor’s Office are based on falsification. Saviano never used the singular. Its plural, “bastards”, gave much more the sense of political criticism. However, the expression was tuned to the singular by both the private and the public prosecutors because there was a need to portray a political criticism— directed towards multiple subjects across the political spectrum who had expressed the same negative approach regarding NGOs’ sea rescues of migrants—as a personal attack, which was the only way to rule out any legitimacy to the criticism formulated by Saviano. Exonerating circumstances related to the right to criticize, moreover, were partly recognized in the verdict. In fact, while Saviano was convicted, the judge acknowledged a mitigating circumstance associated with the high moral and social value of his criticism. Nonetheless, in this trial, the prosecution was very worried about the plaintiff.


How do you explain the decision of the Roman court?

What struck me from the very beginning is that the day before, another verdict was issued in the appeal against Mimmo Lucano [former mayor of Riace, in Calabria, who had promoted a progressive model for the integration of migration in his town]. Another judicial case that has drawn a lot of attention. Mimmo Lucano, like Saviano, was identified as an extraordinary propaganda opportunity by the same politicians who chose Saviano as their ideal target. Because in defamation cases, alongside with defendants, their ideas are objects of the trial. If I were to give a legal explanation, I would imagine that in the best-case scenario, the court considered the ECtHR judgment analyzing the case of an Austrian politician who was called an idiot by a journalist criticizing him because this Austrian politician had said that even Nazi soldiers had contributed to building peace. The Court makes a very interesting reasoning by saying: this criticism is justified because the politician, while making that abhorrent statement, has in mind a propaganda purpose. In that ruling, the Court mentions the concept of consciously provoked outrage, which according to me is a very convincing definition of the concept of propaganda. What does this mean? The politician, to put it informally, makes a big statement because he knows that he will provoke outrage, for opposite reasons, both among his supporters and the other political party. When this happens, criticism, argues the ECtHR, can be proportionate. Hence, even very harsh criticism is allowed. The verdict convicting Saviano does not address this issue and also confuses some of the constituent elements of the crime of defamation. While reading it, I had the strong feeling that the judge herself was not convinced of the decision to convict, but I think external factors weighed in heavily.


What is the context in which the verdict was issued?

A few days before the verdict, Italian politics were dominated by the debate surrounding a Sicilian judge who had refused to apply the so-called Cutro decree [the governmental decree issued after a shipwreck off the beach of Cutro, in Calabria in which almost 100 people lost their lives]. According to the rule of law, judges are called to interpret the law in order to apply it. They are asked to take into account laws’ compatibility with the constitutional framework. Arguing, as Meloni did, that judges must apply the laws tout court and refrain from any interpretation is outrageous. The idea that a judge must apply a law always and in any case, even when the law is unconstitutional, goes against the principles considered essential by our fundamental Charter. It is an extremely dangerous idea that indicates an authoritarian and illiberal vision of democracy on the part of the Government.


What does it mean to have a high level public official suing you? 

In Saviano’s case, a head of government who acts as plaintiff in a trial poses enormous consequences for the separation of powers, affecting the independence of the judiciary. If I, as a judge, know that the lawyer I have in front of me will become a deputy minister of justice within a year, or I know that the lawyer I have in front of me will become a member of the Superior Council of the Judiciary within a year, and that therefore my career could pass through the desk of that lawyer, you understand well that independence is compromised. The situations described are not random examples: they concern respectively what happened in the trials brought against Saviano by Meloni and Salvini. Throughout the whole process, we experienced an anomaly, where the powerful individual seemed to be Saviano. And the person to be protected, Meloni, even when she became Prime Minister. This suggests that politicians believe they are entitled to a sort of retaliation against the journalistic community. Today we have reached the point where, and this is what the Meloni government has legitimized, lawsuits are filed no matter what. Or at least the threat of lawsuit, because between the threat of a lawsuit and the formalization of a lawsuit, there is the ocean in between. Threats of lawsuits are made public without any attempt by the plaintiffs to refute the criticism that was formulated against them. An investigation provides evidence of a certain situation involving a minister, a deputy minister, or a party member, and the response is: I will sue you. There is hardly any justification. Because what it is conveyed is that power is not to be criticized. And if it is criticized, you are criticizing it for an interest, so you must be punished.


Moving on to the activities of the Italian legislature, in 2020 and 2021, the Constitutional Court had invited Parliament to initiate a broad debate on the issue of defamation through the press, both in civil and criminal matters. During the past year, 5 different bills were presented. Last fall, only one was selected to be pursued in the parliamentary process, the Balboni bill.

I say this against my professional interest, but my idea is that defamation should be decriminalized: defamation should not be a crime. Provided that there is a legal framework in place for those who feel that have suffered damages to their reputation. They are entitled to take action in civil court and obtain damage compensations. A provision which should be balanced by the possibility of declaring the recklessness of the action. A possibility that already exists in our legal system in civil matters, but which should be implemented by establishing criteria of proportionality between the damage claimed by the plaintiff and the severity of the penalty in the event of proven recklessness in the dispute. If we truly want to implement and fully fulfil the spirit of Article 21 of the Italian Constitution, the idea that someone can be criminally prosecuted for expressing their ideas is, in my view, no longer acceptable. As long as defamation remains a crime, we risk interpretations that are each time different and linked to contingencies.

This interview was conducted by OBCT as part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and candidate countries. 

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The Netherlands: The MFRR and the CASE deplore abusive…

The MFRR and the CASE deplore the lawsuit against Het Financieele Dagblad

The Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) and the Coalition Against SLAPPs in Europe (CASE) deplore the lawsuit against Dutch daily newspaper Het Financieele Dagblad (FD) and stand in solidarity with the FD and its journalists. The case, of which the hearing will take place on 13 November 2023, is a clear attempt to silence and discourage Het Financieele Dagblad and its journalists from further reporting.

On April 6, 2023, het Financieele Dagblad (FD), a Dutch daily newspaper specialising in business and finance, received a summons from Willem Blijdorp, founder and majority shareholder of the wholesale company B&S. Blijdorp is suing the newspaper and its editor-in-chief Perry Feenstra in a civil case before the Amsterdam District Court over two articles published in November 2022 about his investments in Iranian quarries. The legal basis of the claim is a wrongful act: Blijdorp’s lawyers argue that the article violates his honour and good name, and thereby violates Article 8 of the ECHR and article 7 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. 

Published on November 2, 2022, the first article revealed that Blijdorp, who was vice-chairman of the B&S supervisory board, had hired nine B&S employees to advise and direct his private investment in Iranian marble. According to the newspaper, the involvement of B&S employees contradicts what the B&S executives had told other shareholders in April 2022, thereby omitting the risk that Blijdorp’s Iranian interests would violate sanctions.

A follow-up article was published on November 3, entitled “American watchdog: major shareholder B&S violates Iran sanctions”, which quotes the American non-profit organisation, United Against Nucluear Iran (UANI), describing Blijdorop’s simultaneous business relations with Iran and the United States as “a clear violation of Iran sanctions”.

The summons claim that the sole purpose of the reporting by the FD was to damage Blijdorp, and that the claims were “suggestive and partially incorrect”. Blijdorp asked for the two articles to be removed from the FD website, a correction in the print and online editions and for compensation of both material and immaterial damages to be paid.


Abusive tactics

Our organisations have closely assessed the legal claim and believe it qualifies as a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPPs): abusive litigation filed by powerful individuals aimed at silencing and intimidating legitimate watchdog journalism.

Blijdorp did not opt for summary or preliminary relief proceedings (kort geding), the common route in the Netherlands for cases legitimately aimed at limiting reputational damage following a publication, but instead started main proceedings (bodemprocedure, i.e. proceedings on the merits). These proceedings are much longer than a kort geding and will unnecessarily drive up the legal costs for Het Financieele Dagblad. Blijdorp also asked the journalists to present all their sources to the court. In addition, he claims an excessive amount of €150.000 for non-material damages, while material damages will be calculated in separate proceedings.

In a concerning development on June 20, 2023, Blijdorp filed a petition to summon witnesses, including the journalist and possible sources. Furthermore, several sources received letters from Blijdorp’s lawyers – prior to the lawsuit – requesting them to urgently clarify which information the FD provided to them before giving their testimony. 

A hearing will be held at the Amsterdam Civil Court on November 13,  2023. The MFRR and CASE argue that this legal claim should be considered as a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) and needs to be dismissed at the earliest stage. We also reiterate our solidarity with the journalists of Het Financieele Dagblad who have already had to devote a great deal of time and resources to their defense, while trying to protect the confidentiality of their sources.


Threat to press freedom

The case against Het Financieele Dagblad highlights the threat posed to press freedom in Europe. While the European Union has traditionally been considered a beacon of press freedom, we see an alarming increase in legal intimidation through the use of SLAPPs that threatens the freedom and safety of journalists.  

A draft EU Directive to protect targets of SLAPPs held high promise, but ongoing negotiations between the European Commission, the European Parliament, and the Council of the European Union, may fail to translate European values into action. A watered-down version of the directive will provide no meaningful protection for journalists, media outlets, activists and civil society organisations in Europe. 

As we enter the final stages of the negotiations on the directive, this timely example again illustrates the crucial importance of a strong early dismissal mechanism, a wide definition of the notion of ‘cross-border’ and full compensation of damages. Otherwise similar cases will continue to mushroom throughout the EU, seriously weakening media freedom and the ability of journalists and media outlets to play their watchdog role, thereby undermining the public’s right to know.

Signed by:

  • Free Press Unlimited
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • Coalition Against SLAPPs in Europe (CASE)
  • ARTICLE 19 Europe

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States, Candidate Countries and Ukraine.

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Italy: Roberto Saviano’s conviction a major blow to free…

Italy: Roberto Saviano’s conviction a major blow to free expression

The undersigned international media freedom, free expression, and journalist organisations express shock over yesterday’s criminal conviction of writer and journalist Roberto Saviano, in a case brought by current Italian PM Giorgia Meloni, and we convey our full solidarity with him.

On 12 October 2023, the Criminal Court of Rome convicted Saviano of criminal defamation. The case was initiated by Meloni in November 2021, prior to her assuming the current role of Prime Minister. The criminal lawsuit accused Saviano of aggravated criminal defamation due to his critical comments about Meloni’s persistent anti-migrant stance, voiced during the television programme, Piazza Pulita. Saviano’s remarks came after Piazza Pulita covered the tragic death of a six-month-old baby from Guinea, one of the migrants who drowned  in the Mediterranean when Italian authorities delayed their rescue efforts.


The prosecutor had asked for a fine of 10,000 euros for the criminal charge while its civil law counterpart demanded an additional 75,000 euros in damages. The judge acknowledged the mitigating circumstances, mentioning the moral motivation that led Roberto Saviano to formulate his criticism. The criminal court ordered the writer to pay a fine of 1,000 euros, and 2,600 euros of legal expenses; a further compensation for civil claims of the plaintiff will be determined by a civil court. The final text of the decision that includes the judge’s reasoning will be published in 90 days. 


We believe that Roberto Saviano’s criminal conviction sets a dangerous example which may further facilitate attempts to muzzle critical commentary on public officials and political leaders, bearing grave consequences not only for Roberto Saviano, but also for Italy’s wider press freedom. Defamation laws used to silence criticism have a chilling effect on the society as a whole, and can lead to self-censorship among writers, journalists, activists and human rights defenders and the general public. 


The right to freedom of expression encompasses the right to express opinions and ideas that may be considered offensive, shocking, or disturbing. The ECtHR has clarified that public figures, especially those in political roles, should tolerate a higher degree of criticism and scrutiny due to their prominent position in society. Criminal prosecution to suppress criticism against public officials is a violation of the right to freedom of expression as protected by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).


Our organisations  have been observing how public officials have been increasingly using defamation lawsuits to target journalists and writers reporting on issues of public interest. We emphasise the necessity of ensuring a conducive work environment for journalists in Italy to empower them to report on crucial topics in the public interest and to pose challenging questions without the fear of facing legal threats. Using a criminal defamation lawsuit to silence critical voices cannot happen in a democratic society. We call again the urgent need for Parliament to comprehensively reform outdated defamation laws in Italy and bring them in line with international freedom of expression standards.  


As Saviano’s lawyer has announced that the decision of the court will be appealed, we will continue to monitor the legal proceedings of the Rome court and stand strong in  support of the Italian writer and journalist.

Signed by:

  • ARTICLE 19 Europe 
  • Blueprint for Free Speech 
  • Civil Liberties Union for Europe 
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) 
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) 
  • Frente Cívica, Portugal 
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU) 
  • Fondazione Libera Informazione 
  • Index on Censorship 
  • International Press Institute (IPI) 
  • Meglio Legale 
  • OBC Transeuropa 
  • The Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation 
  • The Good lobby Italia 
  • South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and candidate countries.

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For a transnational anti-SLAPP network: Countering gags on public…

For a transnational anti-SLAPP network: Countering gags on public participation

On October 16, 2023, the first public event of CASE Italia dedicated to countering SLAPPs will take place in Rome. Speakers include journalists, activists, experts in the field, and representatives of a range of organisations advocating for freedom of expression.

SLAPPs (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) are a form of legal harassment affecting not only press freedom, but the right to freedom of expression of our societies as a whole. The goal of those who resort to SLAPPs is to inhibit public participation by silencing critical voices on matters of public interest. Organised on the sixth anniversary of the murder of the Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, the first public event of the CASE Italia working group aims at examining the impact of the SLAPP phenomenon in Italy, contextualise it in the European landscape, and offer recommendations so that journalists, activists, lawyers, and citizens can counter it.

The meeting is organised in two sessions. The first panel offers the chance to hear from journalists and activists targeted by SLAPP about their personal and professional experiences. The second panel is centred around a debate among a number of experts, such as media professionals, lawyers and activists, who will discuss specificities of the Italian context and the continuity with the broader European panorama, as well as possible proposals aimed at contrasting SLAPPs and at strengthening the European anti-SLAPP transnational network.

The event will take place in Italian. 



14:30 – 14: 45 Registration

14:45 – 15:00 Introduction: Sielke Beata Kelner – Researcher and advocacy officer OBCT

15:00 – 16: 30 Panel: SLAPPs: voices and experiences from the field



Francesco Zambon – Whistleblower

Nello Trocchia – Domani journalist

Sara Manisera – Freelance journalist

Antonio Tricarico – Public and corporate finance campaigner ReCommon

Cecilia Anesi – Editor and co-founder IrpiMedia

Antonella Napoli – Freelance journalist

Moderator: Martina Turola – Head of Communication The Good Lobby Italia

16:30 – 17:00 Coffee break

17:00 – 18: 30 Roundtable: Countering SLAPPs: What can Italian civil society do to strengthen the transnational network?


Vittorio di Trapani – FNSI president

Linda Ravo – Liberties – Liberties lawyer and activist

Virginia Ripa di Meana – lawyer

Giulio Vasaturo – Articolo 21 lawyer

Marino Bisso – Rete No Bavaglio journalist

Moderator: Graziella Di Mambro – Articolo 21 journalist

18:30 – 18:45 Closing remarks: Roberta Taveri – Media Freedom Senior Programme Officer ARTICLE 19 Europe

Address: Industrie Fluviali – Via del Porto Fluviale, 35, Rome, Italy 
Date: October 16, 2023 from 14:30 to 19:00 

Participation to the event is free, but registration is required by October 14, 2023 via this link  . The event will be live streamed via OBCT YouTube channel  .

Through the initiative of Articolo 21  , the meeting is approved as part of the professional training courses directed to Italian journalists. For the recognition of credits, members of the Ordine dei Giornalisti must register on the dedicated platform  .

This first CASE Italia event is co-organised by Osservatorio Balcani Caucaso Transeuropa and ARTICLE 19 Europe   in the framework of the Media Freedom Rapid Response  – MFRR project with the support of the Coalition Against SLAPPs in Europe  – CASE.


CASE Italia

CASE Italia is an informal working group established in 2020, whose work is coordinated by Osservatorio Balcani Caucaso Transeuropa. The working group supports CASE in countering SLAPPs in Europe. In support of journalists, activists, whistleblowers, human rights defenders and others targeted by SLAPPs, our efforts are directed at exposing legal harassment and intimidation, and protecting the rights of those who speak out on matters of public interest. CASE Italia members are: Amnesty International Italia, ARTICLE 19 Europe, Articolo 21, Certi Diritti, Environmental Paper Network, Greenpeace Italia, Meglio Legale, OBC Transeuropa, The Good Lobby Italia, Transparency International Italia.



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Sara Manisera: The challenges of investigative journalism

Sara Manisera: the challenges of investigative journalism

Investigative journalists, in addition to the risks of the trade, often incur libel lawsuits, SLAPPs, etc. Especially if, like Sara Manisera, they deal with sensitive issues such as organised crime.


By Sielke Kelner

Originally published by OBCT, also available in ITA

Sara Manisera is a freelance journalist who is part of the Fada collective of journalists, photographers, and authors. She writes about gender issues, minorities, agriculture, the environment, and civil society. Her contributions have been published by various international newspapers including Al Jazeera, Liberation, and The Nation. She has written “Tales of slavery and struggle in the countryside”, a book that originated from her degree thesis in the sociology of organised crime in Rosarno, in the province of Reggio Calabria. Since 2023 she has been affiliated with Bertha Challenge Investigative Journalist Fellow, a grant that is allowing her to devote herself to a year-long project on the wheat supply chain. On September 1, 2022, the Municipality of Abbiategrasso adopted a resolution to initiate an aggravated criminal defamation lawsuit against her. A sentence pronounced in Cutro in June 2022, during the acceptance speech of the Diego Tajani award, about the pervasiveness of mafia infiltration even in municipalities such as that of Abbiategrasso, did not go down well with the council of the municipality in Lombardia.

Is this the first defamation lawsuit you have faced?

Yes, it was notified to me in January 2023. I was not reported for a published article, but for a sentence I uttered in a speech in which I quoted the Municipality of Abbiategrasso during an awards ceremony in front of students. That day I had in front of me some classes from Cutro who have probably only heard of ‘Ndrangheta and Calabria in their life, of the south in a certain way. I wanted to show them that the mafias are not only in the south, but also in the north. And they have been infiltrating the northern economy for decades. The municipal administration of Abbiategrasso has not asked for any rectification of the sentence I have pronounced; it did not invite a public discussion on the subject. This would have been the most appropriate response from a local politician attentive to the infiltration of mafia-type organisations and which could have been offended by the sentences pronounced in Cutro.


Why do you think the council of Abbiategrasso felt resentful of your comment?

I do not know. I tell you the facts. We are talking about a territory that is in the south-west of Milan, next to Gaggiano, Corsico, Trezzano, Buccinasco. Territories that, for over 30 years, have seen not infiltration, but colonisation by the ‘Ndrangheta and, in the Abbiategrasso area, by bosses linked to Cosa Nostra. Various members of gangs linked to Cosa Nostra have been sent to this area on compulsory stays. In this area, there are parts of the economy that also feed on the laundering of capital from illicit activities by mafia-type organisations. This is not my own theory, the sentences say it, the operations directed by the District Anti-Mafia Directorates such as Crimine-Infinito, which acknowledged the presence of the mafias in the North. Now, if you refuse to see or to tell about it, quoting Professor Nando dalla Chiesa, “Either you are an idiot, and therefore you are an accomplice in some way, or you are actually an accomplice”. Anyway, I think that there is very little talk about public ethics and the role that politicians should have, that is, politicians with a straight back who should not go and have coffee with what is considered a member of a gang or a clan. As for the Municipality of Abbiategrasso, I do not know why they felt their image was damaged in 2023. There are other ways to protect the reputation and image of one’s territory, starting with serious environmental policies aimed at effectively protecting the territory and the landscape.


Let’s talk about gag complaints. How has this lawsuit affected your work and personal life?

Thanks to the solidarity of civil society and the mobilisation that took place for my case, several people from FNSI, Articolo21, Ossigeno, Libera, and Un Ponte Per took action. There have been many public and non-public voices that have come to my defense. Ossigeno per l’Informazione granted me pro bono defence. Many other colleagues do not receive this type of media coverage or, as it is very often referred to, media escort. When you are alone and do not have a media escort, these lawsuits have a huge impact, both on your work – because they intimidate, stop, and discourage you – but also on mental health because they are a constant concern. All the papers, the documents you have to collect to defend yourself; trials that go on for months, years. This has a greater impact on freelancers, because it is one thing to have a publisher behind you with an editor, a lawyer, a team that supports you; another thing to be alone.


What would we need to counter this phenomenon?

Definitely free legal coverage for all journalists who suffer this type of lawsuit. An ad hoc fund for compensation for damages.


What is the relationship between the press and politics, including local?

I think the state of the relationship between the local and national press and local and national institutions is not the best. I see, at the local level, an absence of journalism-journalism, quoting Giancarlo Siani, journalism that should question power. Local journalism, with rare exceptions, is a megaphone of power. This happens because there is no money; because local newspapers very often have publishers who work hand in hand with local business and therefore with local politics; because there is a lack of real independence of the journalist, also due to business models.


It goes without saying that political power that is not used to being questioned by the press resorts to lawsuits when subjected to criticism, because it is the easiest weapon. The lawsuit is the weapon used to silence and intimidate. It’s not just a warning to that particular journalist who writes, talks, and says certain things. It is also a warning to other journalists.


These gag complaints filed by people in power reveal a lot about the state of journalism in Italy and about the relationship between the press and institutions. But also on the freedom of speech and the right to inform, or Article 21 of our Constitution. The mafias are not just a judicial phenomenon, they are a social, cultural, economic, and political phenomenon and therefore we need to talk about them and I believe that journalists today have the role of informing and explaining to citizens also the forms and the metamorphosis of criminal organisations. As Paolo Borsellino said, talk about it. Talk about it on television, talk about it on the radio. But talk about it. If journalists do not tell the public that mafias today launder their money in costructions, that the mafias have also entered the municipalities of the north, who is going to do it?


What does it mean for you to be a journalist and in particular an independent investigative journalist?

I believe that what I carry on together with the Fada collective is committed journalism. It is militant journalism with a political gaze. It is non-neutral journalism, because it takes the time to look at the ecological and social fractures of certain societies and certain issues. I always give this example, quoting French colleague Salomé Saqué, who explains that deciding to give the floor to the CEO of Total, who is responsible for environmental crimes in Uganda that will force millions of people to leave the country, or to the environmentalists who are fighting against that project means making a precise choice. So, choosing to tell the story of the struggles of environmentalists in Uganda or Iraq means bringing their voices to the centre of public debate.

This interview was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and candidate countries.

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The team of journalists at KRIK. Credit: Oliver Bunic (NIN) Library

Serbia: Legal harassment of investigative media outlet KRIK must…

Serbia: Legal harassment of investigative media outlet KRIK must stop

The legal harassment against Serbian investigative media outlet KRIK continues as the portal was convicted for reporting on a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) case it was facing, at the same time as a new abusive lawsuit has been filed against it.

We, international press freedom and journalists’ organisations, stand in solidarity with KRIK’s newsroom, which is currently fighting 12 legal proceedings, and raise the alarm about the use of SLAPPs in Serbia, considered as a growing threat to independent journalism.


In recent months, KRIK has been facing multiple lawsuits as a result of public interest investigations exposing crime, corruption and other abuses of power committed by powerful people in Serbia, often affiliated with the ruling party.


The latest alarming development came from the Belgrade High Court on 3 May. In a first instance decision, the court condemned KRIK for naming in an article the individuals who sued them – police commander Goran Zivkovic and two of his colleagues from the Witness Protection Unit. In the article published in December 2021, the media outlet detailed the avalanche of lawsuits it is currently fighting: namely who brought the cases, on what grounds and their impact on the whole editorial team. As a result, KRIK must pay 374,200 dinars (almost 3,200 €) in compensation for “emotional pain” and for trial expenses. The court also ruled that part of KRIK’s web article must be deleted. KRIK has appealed.


In a reaction to the verdict, KRIK’s editor Stevan Dojčinović said SLAPPs are the outlet’s biggest challenge: “this latest ruling makes it clear that SLAPPs have become the regime’s main tool for shutting down the few remaining independent media outlets. Things have gone so far that we are no longer even allowed to complain in public about the fact that our newsroom is flooded with lawsuits – we are found guilty even for that.”


On 11 May 2023, KRIK reported that the media outlet is facing a new lawsuit in response to an article published on 11 April 2023. The lawsuit was filed by Nikola Petrović against KRIK’s editor and investigative reporters Bojana Jovanović and Dragana Pećo. He demanded the removal of the article and is seeking 200,000 dinars (1,700€) in compensation for “mental suffering”. Nikola Petrović has filed two other lawsuits against KRIK: one ended in favour of KRIK and the other is still pending.


This case is the last in a series of 12 lawsuits initiated in most cases by people from the government or businessmen close to them. The amount of damages claimed is completely disproportionate and exceeds by three times the organisation’s annual budget. While the financial burden is huge, the negative impact on the day-to-day operations is equally significant. The time spent on preparing the defence, presenting the evidence, analysing hundreds of pages of legal documents is effectively taking journalists away from their core work: investigating and informing citizens. 


SLAPPs threaten the future of independent journalism – aiming to intimidate, drain resources and isolate reporters so they abandon their hard-hitting investigations. We, the undersigned organisations, renew our support to the KRIK journalists and call on the Serbian judicial authorities to finally acknowledge SLAPPs as a means to silence voices and suppress information of public interest. Serbia continues to provide one of the most fertile grounds in Europe for suing journalists in retaliation for their work. By failing to recognise the threats posed by SLAPPs, the latest court decision sends a worrying signal to all Serbian journalists who investigate sensitive political and economic issues. We hope that the appeal process will consider the serious impact of SLAPPs against journalists, and will finally uphold the public interest and international standards on freedom of expression.

Signed by:

  • Blueprint for Free Speech
  • Civic Initiatives
  • Civil Rights Defenders
  • Coalition For Women In Journalism (CFWIJ)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
  • Index on Censorship
  • Institute for Mass Media Cyprus
  • International Press Institute (IPI)
  • Justice for Journalists Foundation
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)
  • Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP)
  • PEN International 
  • Reporters Sans Frontières / Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
  • SafeJournalists Network
  • South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)
  • Solomon

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and candidate countries.

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Urgent action needed by the Netherlands to protect civic…

Urgent action needed by the Netherlands to protect civic space against SLAPPs and other forms of legal intimidation

Legal intimidation and SLAPPs (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) are attempts to intimidate and silence public watchdogs through lengthy and expensive litigation proceedings by starting meritless lawsuits.

These threats mostly target civil society actors participating in public debates, including human rights advocates, whistle-blowers, climate activists and even academics more broadly. Under the pretext of seeking justice or protecting their rights, those who start these actions only seek to drain them from their resources (time and money) and force them to self-censor.


These abusive tactics have become a very effective way to repress dissent and limit the public’s access to truthful information. Perhaps the most famous example of SLAPPs is the case of the Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who at the time of her death had 47 defamation cases pending against her. Similar intimidatory tactics are also taking place closer to home. Dutch journalist Okke Ornstein was an exemplary case in 2016, when he was imprisoned for criminal defamation for exposing corruption in Panama; the lawsuits filed by Pretium Telecom against several journalists like Peter Olsthoorn for publishing about their seemingly unethical practices; the legal actions started by different dairy companies to stop the public campaign of Dier&Recht bringing attention to the animal cruelty that is part of the industry; among many others. As such, SLAPPs are a growing threat to freedom of speech, press freedom, civil society, and democracies all over the world. The Netherlands is no exception.


Due to these mounting concerns, countries such as the USA, UK, Canada, Australia, South Africa, and the Philippines have been taking firm steps to stop legal intimidation via laws or their judiciaries. For example, the UK both set out a Call for Evidence to collect as much SLAPPs data as possible in a short period of time as well as adopt a criteria-test to define and recognize SLAPPs cases. In 2010, The Supreme Court of the Philippines introduced limited anti-SLAPP protections in the cases related to environmental protection in its Rules of Procedure for Environmental Cases. In 2021, in South Africa, the Western Cape High Court established an Anti-SLAPP defence available for defendants who believe that a lawsuit is brought with the intention of silencing them (Case Number 7595/2017). We believe that the Netherlands (and the European Union, and all its member states) cannot lag behind in putting a stop to SLAPPs and other forms of legal intimidation against public watchdogs.Therefore, we call on the Dutch authorities to: 


Establish a systematic and coordinated mechanism to monitor these forms of intimidation.

The Netherlands should systematically monitor SLAPPs and other forms of legal intimidation against journalists, climate activists, human rights defenders, and other public watchdogs. The current cabinet’s position as expressed in the BNC fiche from June 3rd, 2022 is that there are few to no SLAPPs in the Netherlands. We believe this is not necessarily accurate and it is not a reason to refrain from preventative measures, given the proliferation of SLAPPs across Europe and the absence of adequate monitoring of SLAPPs. For example, recent data collected by the NVJ shows that legal intimidation against journalists in the Netherlands is very real: 1 out of 10 journalists have faced legal action(s) in connection with a publication; 25% of journalists are more cautious with publishing their work due to the legal risks related to journalism; and 10% even adjusts their publication or refrains from publishing completely. It is vital that from now on, these forms of legal harassment are monitored, not only against journalists but against civil society more broadly. Moreover, such monitoring must be systematic and coordinated. Besides quantitative monitoring, more background research is needed to better understand the source and rationale behind these threats.


Next to obtaining a better understanding of the level and scope of legal intimidation against civil society actors in the Netherlands, it is crucial that the Netherlands supports the EU regulatory proposals to protect journalists, climate activists, human rights defenders, and other public watchdogs, including our own organizations, against such harassment, including suits abroad that might lead to enforcement proceedings in the Netherlands. Therefore the undersigned organizations call on the Netherlands, as a global champion of freedom of expression and human rights more broadly, in particular to: 


Take a leading role in ensuring ambitious and robust legislative measures are adopted to address SLAPPs across Europe.
We urgently need legislation and regulatory action to protect these vital actors in society who serve the public interest. The EU anti-SLAPP Directive and the accompanying Recommendation as proposed by the European Commission, currently being debated in the EU member states, provide a solid foundation. However, the recently leaked version of the Anti-SLAPP Directive as coordinated by the Swedish Presidency of the European Council has immensely watered-down the provisions of the EU Commission’s initial proposal. We strongly believe that in order for any legislation to effectively protect those affected by SLAPPs and other forms of legal intimidation, the Netherlands should commit to ensuring that  the provisions of the initial SLAPPs Directive are preserved as much as possible. 


The Netherlands should take a frontrunning role by promoting progressive anti-SLAPP protections within its borders and more widely in Europe by supporting the EU Anti-SLAPPs Directive. Adopting robust legislative and regulatory measures to protect against SLAPPs is not only important in terms of preventing these forms of intimidation from taking place, but also to maintain the Netherlands’ longstanding reputation as a champion of freedom of expression and human rights globally. 

Signed by:

  • Article 19
  • European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
  • European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
  • Free Press Unlimited
  • Greenpeace International
  • International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), National
  • Committee of the Netherlands
  • Nederlandse Vereniging van Journalisten (NVJ)
  • Netherlands Helsinki Committee (NHC)
  • OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)
  • Oxfam Novib
  • Otto Volgenant, lawyer (independent) 
  • Tarlach McGonagle, academic (independent)

This statement was coordinated by the Coalition Against SLAPPs in Europe and the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States, candidate countries, and Ukraine.

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Ireland: How the wealthy and powerful abuse legal system…

Ireland: How the wealthy and powerful abuse legal system to silence reporting

Inside story of the impact on journalists in Ireland awaiting long-delayed SLAPPs reform


By IPI contributor Naomi O’Leary

It was a scoop that packed a punch. As Ireland struggles with a grinding housing crisis that has made record numbers of people homeless, a young newspaper reporter discovered a landlord was planning a mass eviction – of an entire apartment block.

The reporter spoke to the landlord’s public relations representative, asking for a comment, as is standard reporting practice. Half an hour later, the threat to sue for defamation arrived.

“It was addressed to me by name. It seemed he would sue me personally,” the reporter told the International Press Institute (IPI). How much does it cost to hire a solicitor, the reporter remembers wondering. Would my salary stretch that far?

Not only that, but tenants of the landlord had also received legal threats, warning them against speaking to the press.

“That scared the crap out of them. I lost a lot of sources that way,” the reporter recalls. “They thought even if they were anonymous in the story, he’d still know and would still sue them – that’s what the tenants believed.”

The story was ultimately published, though with the name of the landlord omitted, to be on the safe side. But for the reporter, there was no going back.

“This was the point I decided to leave journalism. I was battling with a PR paid three to four times my salary,” the reporter recalls. “As much as I want to do it, if you get anything wrong, a small mistake, you can be financially ruined. I quit the next week.”

Interviews with journalists and civil society organisations in Ireland on behalf of IPI have revealed how the wealthy and powerful systematically abuse Ireland’s legal system to influence reporting about them, to keep unflattering information out of the public domain.

The journalists interviewed included freelancers, local news reporters, and staff at top national publications. They disclosed how legal intimidation affects the full range of Irish media, from the smallest shoestring podcasts and magazines to major broadcasters.

The threat of defamation proceedings has muzzled the reporting of stories of public interest on topics as varied as the housing crisis, concussion in sport, local community tragedies, sexual abuse, and day-to-day political reporting, the interviews revealed. As a result, the public is prevented from finding out about matters of public interest concerning wealthy individuals, and some of the politicians they elect.

Journalists are also told by their employers and by lawyers not to discuss lawsuits publicly for fear of escalating legal intimidation, preventing the scale of the issue from being widely known.

Cases disclosed to the International Press Institute:

For the purposes of breaking the silence around the abuse of defamation proceedings in Ireland, journalists and civil society actors disclosed defamation cases or threats they were subject to on the condition their names were protected due to concerns about further legal or professional risk.

  • One small publisher shared images of a selection of four recent solicitors letters they had received warning of defamation proceedings in response to their coverage of Ireland’s housing crisis. Most represented people with commercial interests in the housing sector.
  • A survivor of sexual abuse said they had received a letter warning of potential defamation proceedings in advance of speaking at a public event.
  • Plans to report on a sexual harassment suit against a company were shelved after the complainant received a legal threat from company lawyers and withdrew from plans to speak to the press, according to the journalist who wanted to report on the story.
  • One small local newspaper was forced to pay solicitors and barristers a sum that could have hired an extra reporter for a year after being accused of defamation by a politician, according to a journalist at the outlet. The article concerned was a summary of previously reported news about the individual. The matter was ultimately settled by the newspaper issuing a clarification. The effect of Ireland’s current defamation law was described as “extremely crippling” and having a “very serious chilling effect”, meaning that if a story carried any risk of triggering a complaint it would likely not be run, unless it was worthy of the front page.
  • A local news reporter estimated they had received 20 legal threats in their 25-year career.
  • One national reporter described being sued by a property developer for reporting on safety defects in buildings. The case was never concluded, and the journalist concerned believes it was not taken to win, but as a tactic to help the developer to continue to secure business deals as he could downplay the allegations as being contested in legal proceedings. “Naturally it never went anywhere, because he didn’t have a leg to stand on,” the journalist said. “He was using the system to deflect from the fact he’d built appalling apartments at the start of the boom. This is typical – you issue proceedings and you let the thing sit there, with the hope the newspaper will settle, and you can claim a victory one way or another.”
  • In one case, a civil society organisation was threatened with a defamation suit for highlighting privatisation in medical care by a business with interests in the sector. It never went to court and the complaints were considered legally doubtful, but due to the threat of the costs involved in defending a case the organisation was forced to delete communications, shut down campaigning on this issue, and keep the whole matter a secret.
  • One freelance journalist disclosed they were currently subject to two defamation proceedings, describing them as “expensive” to defend against. Regarding the effect on reporting, the reporter said “we all have to be more careful” due to the increased litigiousness of certain parts of society.
  • A political party was said to have sent defamation threats to two different media organisations in response to their press office being contacted with a request for comment about a story.
  • Documentary footage of personal interviews about a tragic news event was radically cut due to legal pressure, leaving the parts that were left in “pointless”, according to a filmmaker. “Viewing of the finished film was agreed – and within hours we were threatened with legal action. Five whole minutes were cut out from different places leaving a huge hole,” the filmmaker said. “It stopped people being themselves, saying how it made them feel. Not true to the tragedy either.”
  • One author described receiving a letter from a politician after publishing a book in which the politician was mentioned, demanding monetary compensation and that copies be immediately removed from the shelves. “I can still relate to the feeling when I got that letter about the book,” the author said. “For a day I was in a state. It’s very stressful. It’s particularly stressful when you know you didn’t do anything wrong.”
  • In one case, a then-member of the government was given a payout of several thousands by a newspaper because it had made a mistake with their name in copy, mixing them up with someone else with a similar name, according to a journalist familiar with the incident. The amount given to the politician would have paid for 20 freelance articles.
  • One major media organisation changed plans to cover the issue of concussion in sport after receiving legal threats, according to the journalist who wanted to report on the story.
  • One broadcaster chose to cover a story about a politician through a pre-recorded interview, rather than their usual live debate panel format, because the politician concerned is reputed to be litigious. The decision was taken to reduce the risk that any stray remarks live on air could trigger a defamation threat, journalists were told.
  • One organisation chose not to publish a story about politicians threatening media organisations with defamation proceedings, because the subject was deemed legally risky, a journalist involved with the story said.
  • One major news organisation has stopped almost all reporting about certain politicians due to legal threats, two journalists said.
  • In one case, a state contractor threatened to sue a reporter if a story involving them was published, according to the journalist concerned.
  • One civil society organisation working on accountability was threatened with defamation proceedings by a commercial interest over a report they had published. Years later the case has yet to reach court, but the organisation has lost its professional indemnity insurance as a result. The case was taken “to mess with us”, rather than with the hopes of succeeding in court, an employee at the NGO said, adding that they believed the process was being deliberately drawn out. “We spent a lot of time doing this, instead of what we should be doing.”
  • One person who had wished to speak to journalists about a story involving a politician said that aggressive threats of legal proceedings had repeatedly been sent to the home of their elderly parents. They believe this was done deliberately “to humiliate and embarrass me” and “to scare” other people away from speaking to the press. The costs of responding to the letters have been roughly €1,000 a month for six months.

The playbook

The legal threat typically arrives by letter or email. The wording can be highly aggressive, often instructing the receiver that the contents of the letter must be kept confidential, or there will be further repercussions.

This goes against advice issued by the Solicitors Regulation Authority in the United Kingdom, which has warned solicitors against getting involved in so-called strategic lawsuits against public participation or SLAPPs, which involves abusive litigation that is aimed to silence critics.

The SRA warned solicitors against using excessively intimidating language, issuing far-fetched threats about fines or imprisonment, or sending such letters as part of a “public relations” strategy as a way to stop journalists from reporting a true story. The body has reminded law firms that solicitors have a duty to act with honesty and integrity.

The body also warned against sending correspondence that is marked as “confidential” or similar when this has no legal foundation, against sending excessive numbers of letters, and against pursuing “unnecessary and onerous procedural applications, intended to waste time or increase costs”.

Research for this report revealed that all these tactics are used in Ireland to prevent the publication of information of public importance, the hallmark of a SLAPP. Some interviewees called for the Law Society of Ireland to issue similar guidance as the SRA.

The interviews indicated this is an all-island issue, with some solicitors appearing to specialise in selecting the most favourable jurisdiction between London, Belfast, and Dublin, or threatening their targets with multiple proceedings in different jurisdictions at once.

Those who tend to take aggressive defamation proceedings are most commonly business owners or politicians, according to interviews for this report. The politicians who have launched or threatened defamation proceedings against Irish journalists and news outlets span the political spectrum.

But what unites the people who do this is that they have the monetary means, and that they tend to use legal intimidation repeatedly. Some business leaders and politicians have gained a reputation for being particularly litigious, which can make newsrooms more hesitant to report about them.

Journalists described solicitors’ letters arriving in a predictable pattern, with some politicians seeming to keep lawyers on retainer for the purposes of aggressive reputation management.

During the past year a series of defamation cases taken by politicians against journalists and media organisations on the island of Ireland – including by Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly, Left independent MEPs Mick Wallace and Clare Daly, and Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald – have been flagged for press freedom concerns.

The interviews revealed that such cases are the tip of the iceberg. Only a fraction of the defamation threats received by media organisations and journalists go to court, or even go beyond an initial warning letter. But each letter received, regardless of the merits of its complaints, imposes onerous costs on already thinly-stretched media organisations.

National reporter:

I think journalists who say that legal actions don’t affect their future behaviour aren’t being honest. If you get a legal letter from someone, the very fact of its existence will determine how and in some cases if, you write about that person again. A positive effect could be that you will research a piece even more thoroughly, upping your number of sources for example. But a negative is that you may censor yourself or not even write a piece at all.

Some people are serial litigants and that makes people wary of going near them in terms of media coverage. This is particularly problematic if the people concerned are politicians which has been the case with me. It is undemocratic not to report on certain politicians because you are fearful of legal action even when you know a story is true and in the public interest.

In my experience, some people including Irish politicians send legal letters even when they are aware the story is accurate just as a shot across the bows. And some newspapers issue an apology or clarification even when none is warranted, just to avoid costly litigation. Needless to say, this is disastrous for a free press.

The fact that politicians are so well paid and resourced compared to journalists (in an Irish context anyway) adds to the pressure. In the case of two politicians I have experience of litigation with, they appear to keep a solicitor on retainer. Still I like to think myself and my immediate colleagues ultimately remain undaunted in our bid to give fair, accurate and informative coverage.

‘Getting it legalled’

Significant day-to-day costs are imposed on newsrooms by the administrative burden and legal fees required to pay solicitors to systematically check articles for potential legal risks and to respond to continual threats to sue.

A baseless accusation of defamation that may have no chance in court nevertheless may therefore still cost hundreds of euros an hour in solicitors’ fees to respond to, while sucking up time for thinly-resourced newsrooms.

The process of having an article checked by a solicitor for legal risk has been adopted as routine practice in many Irish news organisations, imposing steep costs on a struggling industry. It’s known as “getting it legalled”.

The practice of “legalling” shapes reporting, as reporters learn how to craft articles that won’t be flagged as risky by lawyers. Public interest vies with legal risk as a consideration for publication. Reporters said this can muffle the clarity of the information conveyed and commonly leads to details being pre-emptively watered down to avoid a complaint, even when the facts of the story are demonstrable and clear.

An editor at one local newspaper apologised for being exhausted when contacted for an interview. The editor said they had had to work well past midnight the previous night to “legal” articles in time for their print deadline, and had been up early the next morning to care for children, a small illustration of the daily burden imposed on journalists by the stringent defamation environment.

The outlet had explored the possibility of getting insurance against defamation, the editor said, but was told that this was subject to conditions that were impossible to accept. These included getting each contributor to agree to indemnify the outlet, and being prepared to settle rather than fight any claim, regardless of its merits.

The very largest organisations may have an in-house lawyer employed on staff. Smaller news organisations often rely on the legal training of their journalists. Some staff at smaller magazines either have law degrees or are qualified lawyers themselves as well as journalists, something that can be important for smaller outlets to keep going as it reduces the initial upfront costs of responding to defamation threats.

Editor at a small publication:

We obviously try not to let the fear of being sued change what we cover, but it’s there hanging over us all the time. We know that even if we get everything right, a person could sue us, and we’d have to defend the case, which would cost a minimum of tens of thousands of euro, and could easily reach into six or seven figures if it goes to trial. We don’t have insurance and don’t have the money to pay for that up front, even with the prospect of recouping it if we won and costs were awarded to us — we’d have to either get pro bono representation or concede the case and grovel for mercy. It’s very stressful. Sometimes people threaten to sue us if we publish anything about them at all… we just have to guess whether they are serious or bluffing, and decide whether the story is important enough to be worth taking the risk of publishing it in these circumstances.

National reporter:

I’ve probably received around a dozen legal letters threatening defamation action in response to reporting on organisations or individuals over the last five years. In many cases we have been able to publish despite the threats, but in some cases, even where our story is backed up by solid documentation and proof, the threat of a costly legal case (even one which our media organisation might eventually win) has meant a number of stories have been spiked, sometimes meaning information that would be in the public interest is kept from the public. Ireland’s defamation laws are overwhelmingly weighted towards protecting the powerful, and against journalists doing their job.

The costs

It’s typical for news organisations to pay a solicitor to respond to each defamation threat they receive, with rates said to start from €350 an hour. These fees escalate the further a legal complaint goes, with costs rapidly rising into the thousands and tens of thousands once barristers or senior counsel are involved.

One small outlet with limited resources described securing a ‘mates rates’ arrangement with a lawyer to help respond to the frequent defamation threats they receive. Another small publication, which is loss-making, spent €10,000 defending one case before it was dropped.

A journalist at a national publication said that the legal advice they received was to settle any complaint with compensation as a default, because even in the case of victory with full costs awarded to the media organisation, the complaining party would delay or avoid paying out the money owed.

“You’ll have spent fifty grand defending a story that is absolutely true,” the journalist said. “The legal advice is: give them ten grand and get them to go away. Cut your losses.”

“In 80 or 90 percent of cases you’re talking about a mistake, not something malicious,” the journalist continued. “Stuff I do gets legalled any time there’s a hint of anything – the newspaper does it routinely, every day. If they think there’s an issue they’ll refer it to a solicitor.”

Apart from the direct monetary cost involved, the process of referring articles for checking by a solicitor, responding to the solicitors’ questions and reviewing their advice takes up working hours of editors and reporters in newsrooms that are already thinly staffed.

One small publication said they did not have the money to fight objections. “We’ve fought and won a few [cases]. But usually we just delete or take down, as our resources aren’t able for a prolonged scrap,” the founder said.

In response to a query from this author, Tom Lyons of business publication The Currency said he had received legal threats “at least 30 times”. He shared an image from a legal firm representing an Irish businessman. An objection that a number written as €2.88 billion instead of €3 billion in the article “was used to undermine the entire story”, he said.

Fears within media organisations that publicly disclosing a threat could escalate the dispute means that media organisations and journalists participate in keeping the scale of the issue unknown to the public.

But there is one major media organisation for which figures are available. Because it is a public body, national broadcaster RTÉ is required to disclose data about the cost of its legal proceedings under Freedom of Information requests.

RTÉ has been hit with 29 sets of legal proceedings over the six years to 2022, according to data released to the Irish Examiner. These cumulatively cost RTÉ €4.7 million, with some costs still accruing as proceedings are not concluded – an average of €160,000 per case.

National reporter:

It had a huge impact on my own confidence and my own career. It was my biggest story to date, and it was canned because of a solicitor’s letter.

Video reporter:

I was threatened by a state representative and was called, emailed, with veiled threats to not cover the story. I immediately reduced editorial risk. They knew where I lived. The effect is absolute. It waters down, it hides facts… It suppresses free speech about your own personal experience.

Why is it like this?

Ireland’s defamation laws are considered to be among the harshest in Europe and have been criticised as excessive by the European Court of Human Rights, the Council of Europe, the European Commission, and various media freedom organisations. The International Press Institute has previously described Irish defamation trials as “wildly unpredictable”.

As IPI previously reported, a history of juries awarding vast damages to complainants is considered to have had a chilling effect on journalists’ ability to freely report, and the lack of transparency about how the level of compensation is determined has been criticised by Ireland’s Supreme Court.

The prominent left-wing politician Proinsias De Rossa was awarded €380,000 in 1999, a communications consultant was awarded €1.25 million in 2014, and an initial award of €10 million to a former company executive was reduced on appeal to €250,000 in 2019. These are a level of damages that could bankrupt some media organisations at a stroke.

In contrast, Austria caps damages at €50,000 for the worst cases, while typical damages in the Netherlands range from €1,000 to €5,000.

Aside from the well-known stringency of Irish defamation law and the history of large payouts, interviewees for this article revealed a number of indirect factors that restrict how free journalists feel to report facts that are in the public interest.

These include the high fees required by solicitors to reply to threats of legal action – a cost imposed regardless of the merits of the initial complaint or its likelihood of succeeding in court – as well as the long length of proceedings, which can drag on for years without conclusion.

Some journalists believed that complainants seek to draw their cases out as long as possible deliberately, potentially never intending to bring the issue to court. This means that the defamation threat ‘hangs over’ the reporter or media organisation for years without conclusion. Litigants use this as leverage over the media organisations, the journalists said, because a pending and unresolved legal case can persuade editors to smother further reporting on the individual concerned.

In addition, some journalists also spoke of a risk-averse culture among management and the solicitors that advise media organisations, which they say leads to a conservative approach to publishing and a self-imposed silence about defamation cases, keeping the scale of the problem from being publicly known.

Two interviewees said insurance companies were imposing difficult conditions as a condition for providing indemnity cover, such as that media organisations commit to settling complaints with out-of-court payouts as a default, something they warned could be incentivising further complaints.

National reporter:

I have been subject to several threats of litigation over the years. The cases where media organisations have gotten something wrong are probably those easiest dealt with, as when there is a genuine mistake it can be dealt with quickly. But it is those where powerful individuals in politics or business want to stifle debate which can have the most chilling effect. These individuals just allow the “proceedings” to sit there for months and years without taking any real steps to go to court where costs and legal determination might become involved. In a legal system such as Ireland’s, with its draconian defamation laws, this can have the effect of stopping all reporting on the individual concerned. The [media] organisation takes the view that they will defend the initial threat in court if needs be, but then becomes paranoid that any subsequent coverage could cause them to lose that case. The result is that in my organisation, all reportage of the doings of that powerful individual or anything associated with them, goes through such a restrictive legal review that in most cases subsequent stories are dropped. The SLAPP in action.

What can be done?

government review of defamation law recommended last year that defamation trials should no longer have juries, which is an unusual practice in Europe.

The government has proposed a reform of the law to protect “responsible public interest journalism”, to encourage corrections and apologies as a remedy where possible, and to take measures to reduce legal costs and delays.

However, the government stopped short of proposing a cap on damages, arguing that this would be too rigid. The promised legislative reform has yet to be carried out.

The European Commission has proposed introducing a directive with the aim to “protect targets of SLAPPs and prevent the phenomenon from further expanding in the EU”. The scope is limited to cases with cross-border implications, because defamation falls under the competence of national law.

The Commission proposal would encourage member states to include safeguards in their national laws to address “manifestly unfounded or abusive cases for civil matters” with cross-border implications.

This would mean allowing courts to dismiss “manifestly unfounded” cases at an early stage, with the burden of proof falling to the claimant. Claimants would have to shoulder all legal costs if cases are dismissed as abusive, and courts would have the power to impose penalties for the taking of abusive cases. Targets of SLAPPs could also claim compensation. EU countries should also refuse to recognise a judgement from a non-EU country if the case is abusive or “manifestly unfounded” under national law.

The Commission has also encouraged the abolishment of prison sentences for defamation, the use of civil law rather than criminal law, and training of both legal professionals and potential targets of SLAPPs to encourage better recognition of the phenomenon.

The Irish government has expressed support for the Commission’s proposal. However, there are now concerns that the draft is being significantly watered down as it is negotiated with EU member states.

In March, members of the Ireland Anti-SLAPP Network wrote to the Irish government expressing its concern at a newly published compromise version of the directive. The letter accused the new draft of “watering down crucial protections and radically narrowing the scope of the procedural safeguards”, including by making the bar for pre-trial dismissal of cases so high it would “render the proposed early dismissal mechanism entirely redundant”.

“It is difficult to see how the mechanisms proposed in the compromise proposals would make any material difference to those targeted by SLAPPs. It is therefore crucial that the Department of Justice acts now to ensure that the European Council does not water down the provisions in the EC’s proposed directive, but rather builds on them to ensure robust protections are in place against SLAPPs in Europe.”

This article was comissioned by IPI as part of its work in the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and candidate countries. The project is co-funded by the European Commission.

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MFRR Summit 2023 | Day 2

MFRR Summit 2023 | Day 2

SLAPPs, Impunity, and Rule of Law


Across Europe we regularly see powerful entities abusing legal systems to stifle and smother critical reporting. Strategic litigation poses a major threat to independent media across the continent, in particular in countries where rule of law is weakest and vulnerable to abuse. Day 2 of the Summit will shine a spotlight on these topics as experts discuss initiatives to counter SLAPPs, impunity for crimes against journalists, and disinformation laws.

Keynote: Fundamental rights and the rule of law in the EU

Taking stock and the way forward

12:30 – 13:00 CET

Day 2 of the MFRR Summit 2023 will open with a keynote address from Andreas Accardo, Head of Institutional Cooperation and Networks Unit, European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights. Picking up on the theme set out by UNESCO concerning the World Press Freedom Day, “Shaping a Future of Rights”, this keynote will offer a perspective on how the EU can remain a role of model for human rights by responding to global developments in a fundamental rights compliant manner. A key element in this regard is the civic space, the role of civil society organisations, human rights defenders and journalists in upholding the rule of law and a fundamental rights culture.


  • Andreas Accardo, Head of Institutional Cooperation and Networks Unit, European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights

Taking steps towards ending SLAPPs

13:00 – 13:45 CET

European institutions have already established some standards through recommendations on how to counter Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation (SLAPPs) while more European legislative and non-legislative initiatives are expected to be finalised in the upcoming months and years. At national level, civil society and other stakeholders have joined forces to push for measures that would discourage SLAPPs and help targets. This panel will bring together representatives from the Coalition Against SLAPPs in Europe (CASE) and various Anti-SLAPP national groups to discuss measures being taken at national level to counter SLAPPs.


  • Marzena Blaszczyk, Board Member, Citizens Network Watchdog Poland
  • Susan Coughtrie, Director, Foreign Policy Centre, co-chair, UK Anti-SLAPP Coalition
  • Charlotte Michils, Legal Adviser Flemish/Belgian Association of Journalists & Lecturer Thomas More


  • Flutura Kusari, Senior Legal Advisor, European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)

Media, politics, and vexatious lawsuits

An Italian perspective

13:45 – 14:00 CET

In recent months, Italy has drawn the attention of several international organisations working on media freedom. A cause for concern is the rapid succession of defamation lawsuits and subsequent legal proceedings against Italian journalists and intellectuals brought up by politicians and high-ranking public figures. By exploring the case study of Italian newspaper Domani – which in a matter of months has been respectively threatened to be sued and sued by two high profile public figures – we will discuss defamation, SLAPPs, and the challenges Italian media face when reporting on public figures.


  • Francesca De Benedetti, Journalist, Domani



  • Dr. Sielke Beata Kelner, Researcher and Advocacy officer, Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa

Disinformation laws

Regulating the truth

14:15 – 15:00 CET

In Hungary, Greece, and Turkey governments have passed laws to regulate the basis of factuality under the title of “Disinformation Laws”. This session is going to bring forth the national contexts under which these laws have been drafted and passed, and how they have been implemented so far under different circumstances.


  • Dr. Kerem Altıparmak, Legal Consultant, International Commission of Jurists; Co-founder, Freedom of Expression Association
  • Tasos Telloglou, Journalist, Ekathimerini
  • Blanka Zoldi, Editor-in-chief, Lakmusz


  • Tom Gibson, EU Representative and Advocacy Manager, Committee to Protect Journalists

Rule of Law Reports

Protecting media pluralism and independence?

15:15 – 15:35 CET

The short panel will discuss the potential of the Rule of Law (RoL) mechanism by looking at the experience of transnational coalitions employing the RoL report for Europe-wide advocacy work. It will address the following key questions: How can European mechanisms such as the Rule of Law (RoL) report contribute to strengthening the protection of independent journalism across Europe? To what extent does it help foster an open and informed debate in member countries?


  • Tom Gibson, EU Representative and Advocacy Manager, Committee to Protect Journalists
  • Andrea Menapace, Executive Director, Italian Coalition for Civil Liberties and Rights (CILD)


  • Serena Epis, Editor and Researcher, Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa

Significance of Public Inquiry process in combating the culture of impunity

15:50 – 16:10 CET

Impunity has an impact much wider than the person or outlet that has been the target of a crime; it also affects the whole media sector as well as leaving their target audience in the dark. The murder cases of Daphne Caruana Galizia, Jan Kuciak, and Giorgos Karaivaz have all left a stain in recent years, as have the declarations of “cold cases” for journalist murders. This session will discuss the cases of impunity in recent years in Europe, its impact on media freedom and people’s right to access information, and the significance of the public inquiry process as part of calls for justice.


  • Therese Comodini Cachia, Human Rights Lawyer
  • Corinne Vella, Head of media relations, The Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation


  • Sarah Clarke, Head of the Europe and Central Asia team, Article 19 Europe

Bolster Your Digital Safety

An Anti-Hacking, Anti-Doxing Workshop

17:00 – 18:30 CET

Learn to better protect yourself from impersonation, hacking, and doxing (the publishing of private info). With your devices in hand, join PEN America and Freedom of the Press Foundation for an interactive workshop where we’ll teach you how to audit your social media accounts, tighten your privacy settings, and track your personal information online so you can maintain the public profile you need to do your job.


Please note that this workshop is a closed event. You must register using the button below, even if you have already registered for the Summit.


  • Jeje Mohamed, Senior Manager, Digital Safety and Free Expression at PEN America
  • Harlo Holmes, Chief Information Security Officer & Director of Digital Security at Freedom of the Press Foundation
Italy's Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni is accusing Roberto Salvani of defamation. Allgemein

Italy: Lawsuits against Saviano and Domani highlight wider SLAPP…

Italy: Lawsuits against Saviano and Domani highlight wider SLAPP problem

Ongoing litigation against media by new PM and Defence Minister raise media freedom concerns


By IPI contibutor Christian Elia

In recent weeks there has been much talk in Italy about a recently opened legal case against the journalist and writer Roberto Saviano, who is accused of defamation in a lawsuit filed in 2020 by Giorgia Meloni, the new prime minister. Saviano had called Meloni and Lega leader Matteo Salvini ‘bastards’ during a La7 television programme for their policy on rescuing migrants at sea.

There have been multiple stances in defence of Saviano in newspapers and by associations for freedom of the press and freedom of expression. They have been critical of Meloni and of Salvini, who is a plaintiff in the trial, and say that Meloni’s lawsuit is intimidatory and aimed at discouraging criticism of Saviano and her.

This is not an isolated incident, however. At the end of November 2021, Prime Minister Meloni also filed a defamation case against the daily newspaper Domani. The court decided to indict journalist Emiliano Fittipaldi and the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, Stefano Feltri, over a year-old article about Meloni, who was not prime minister at the time.

The article dates back to October 2021 and reported on Domenico Arcuri, former extraordinary commissioner for the Covid emergency. Arcuri mentioned, talking to magistrates, the names of some MPs who, according to him, had contacted him to promote individuals or companies able to supply masks on “far less advantageous” terms. The MPs included Meloni, Domani reported.

In response, Meloni has demanded €25,000 in damages from the newspaper. The requested financial compensation is part of civil proceedings that can be claimed in addition to criminal proceedings, which is the legal framework for “aggravated defamation” lawsuits.

“Until a law on reckless litigation is passed, lawsuits and civil lawsuits remain the sword of Damocles over freedom of information in the country”, Feltri said in an article.

Domani’s journalists have also pointed out that while is possible for Meloni to sue the newspaper, the PM – herself under investigation for aggravated defamation for a tweet against one of her former candidates – is sheltering      behind parliamentary protections from prosecution.

“Meloni as a ‘citizen, journalist and politician’, as she had her lawyer write, decided to take this newspaper to trial but her personal position has changed. As prime minister she is called upon to protect among the constitutional values also freedom of expression of all, also because as a ‘politician she can already protect her own,’” the journalists of Domani wrote.

The new Italian government had already come out against Domani. Last month, Defence Minister Guido Crosetto had announced his intention to sue the newspaper for defamation over an investigation by journalists Emiliano Fittipaldi and Giovanni Tizian into the current minister’s potential conflict of interest with companies in the sector he now oversees. For now, Minister Crosetto has not followed up on the announcement.

Italy’s SLAPP problem

The president of the Federazione Nazionale della Stampa Italiana (FNSI), Giuseppe Giulietti, recalled how ”the law to oppose gagging complaints and punish reckless actions has been at a standstill since 2002 and will remain so due to increasingly clear transversal intentions”.

The law Giulietti is referring to is the law against SLAPPs, as lawsuits are called in which there is a gross disproportion of power between the person or organization suing and the accused. The goal of accusers or plaintiffs in SLAPP cases is not necessarily to win the case, but to intimidate the defendant – even if only through the many burdens and effects of a trial – and discourage his or her work, taking away time, money and initiative. Plaintiffs also take advantage of the public bias against the presumption of innocence, placing the defendant in a position of weakness and risk.

Most of the time the accusation in SLAPP cases is defamation, and these cases are almost always directed at journalists, bloggers or activists who have written or said something in public that someone claims is defamatory against them. The consequences can be both criminal and civil.In Italy, both civil and criminal lawsuits are often referred to as “querele temerarie” (reckless lawsuits), with some confusion: “querela”, however, in legal language refers only to criminal cases. They are referred to as “reckless” because they are brought despite the uncertainty of the final outcome, but precisely for the purpose of responding or threatening the defendant.

2016 dossier edited by the association Ossigeno per l’informazione, based on data provided by the Ministry of Justice, estimated that around 70 per cent of defamation lawsuits are dropped by the public prosecutor and therefore do not go to trial.

There is no more recent data, but lawyer Andrea Di Pietro, who has been dealing with the issue for many years, said in an interview that in 2019 the ministry confirmed to Ossigeno that that percentage was still valid. According to him and several other experts in the field, it probably still is today.Until recently, Article 13 of Law 47 of 1948 on the press, which set forth a mandatory term of imprisonment from one to six years “in the event of conviction for libel in the press committed by attributing a specific fact”, was also taken into account for defamation in the press.

This article was declared illegitimate in June last year by the Constitutional Court. By contrast, the court deemed Article 595 of the Criminal Code, which deals with defamation, compatible with the Constitution, since that provision allows the judge to apply a prison sentence only in cases of exceptional gravity and in all other cases to limit it to a fine.

Article 595 of the Criminal Code concerns anyone who”’by communicating with several persons, offends the reputation of others”. It is punishable by imprisonment of up to two years or a fine of up to EUR 2,065, but both can be increased if the offence is against “a political, administrative or judicial body”.

In the case of defamation “in the press” – a definition that today includes both newspapers and other media, e.g. social networks, and therefore potentially concerns almost everyone – the penalty can be up to three years and the fine is at least EUR 516.

EU anti-SLAPP directive on the way

After years of calls for action, last April the European Commission presented two measures that are still awaiting approval. The first is a legislative proposal for a directive that would intervene precisely on the problems of civil lawsuits, which also exist in Italy: the most important measure is the introduction of a mechanism that would allow civil lawsuits that are manifestly unfounded to be dismissed quickly.

This mechanism, should the directive be approved, will, however, only be valid for cases of European relevance: i.e. cases relating to articles or public speeches involving, for example, more than one EU member country.

The directive also envisages protection for journalists working in the EU who receive convictions from courts in non-EU states, and penalties to discourage the frequent use of SLAPPs, including the possibility for an accused party who proves his or her innocence to claim damages from the plaintiff.

The other measure proposed by the European Commission is a recommendation to member states to implement measures to encourage this kind of practice in their national legislation. The recommendation, however, is not binding, and much will depend on whether and how it is implemented in each country.

The next hearing in Saviano’s trial has been set for December 12, 2022. Many journalists and members of the cultural world will be present at the hearing in support of the defendant. In the courtroom will also be the president of the FNSI, Giuseppe Giulietti, and the spokesperson of Articolo 21, an association that fights for press freedom, Elisa Marincola, as well as a delegation of CASE Italia observers who are following the case with a view to write a repor.

“It is necessary to say ‘enough to reckless lawsuits’ with a law that at this point can only be induced by the European Directive given that the Italian Parliament has failed to produce even a minimal amendment that could act as a deterrent against gag lawsuits,” Giulietti commented.

This article is part of IPI’s series “Media freedom in Europe in shadow of Covid”, which comprises news and analysis from IPI’s network of correspondets throughout the EU. Articles do not necessarily reflect the views of IPI. The reporting series is supported by funding from the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for FReedom and by the European Commission (DG Connect) as part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response coalition.

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