News Media Association says over 60 editors, journalists, writers, publishers, academics and experts, including the CEOs of ITN and Pan Macmillan, as well as the editors of The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Sun, The Times and The Sunday Times, the Financial Times, Bloomberg, Private Eye, Tortoise and The Mirror have written to Justice Secretary Alex Chalk KC MP to request that a standalone anti-SLAPP Bill is included in the King’s Speech. The letter has been sent ahead of the King’s Speech on 7 November, in which the government will outline its priorities for the forthcoming Parliamentary session.
The government has already committed to bring forward a package of measures that take aim at SLAPPs. Launching the commitment in July 2022, the former Justice Secretary, Dominic Raab said: “I’m announcing reforms to uphold freedom of speech, end the abuse of our justice system, and defend those who bravely shine a light on corruption.” However, over a year after that commitment was made there has been little progress towards universal protection against SLAPPs. While limited anti-SLAPP provisions have been included in a recent amendment to the forthcoming Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill, this is only a partial victory.
“As an important part of the global financial system, it is vital that the UK ensures journalists and public watchdogs are able to continue their work without risking legal harassment. However, this amendment does not go far enough as it only covers claims relating to the ‘public interest in protecting society from economic crimes’” the signatories said in their letter to the justice secretary. “It also introduces an unnecessary element of uncertainty by making the operation of the law contingent on the belief of the defendant and the perceived purpose of the filer.”
As this King’s Speech is the last to take place during this Parliament and before the expected next general election, it is the last opportunity for this government to realise its commitment to stamp out SLAPPs. The UK Anti-SLAPP Coalition’s Model Anti-SLAPP Law produced with support from leading legal and industry experts, provides a road map towards protecting public watchdogs from legal harassment.
Rachel Corp, chief executive of ITN, said: “ITN supports this initiative as an organisation committed to ensuring that journalists can undertake public interest investigations without fear of harassment or financial penalty. ITN’s motto is to bring truth to life, which is based on 67 years of independent journalism, and the belief that stories we can trust empower us all. An Anti-SLAPP Bill would signal to the world that the UK proudly supports journalism that can ask difficult questions and hold power to account and ultimately improve the world we live in.”
Pia Sarma, editorial legal director at Times Newspapers Ltd, said: “This campaign to address the misuse of libel laws to the detriment of serious journalism is gathering the momentum it deserves. This country is unique in the hurdles it presents for public interest investigations and the chilling effect of its law before stories are even published.” Independent, fearless journalism comes at a premium and our laws should not be used as an additional obstacle to publication.”
Eliot Higgins, founder of Bellingcat, said: “Until there are serious legislative steps, taken by Parliament to address the abuse of the UK legal system to target journalists, it’s safe to assume those abuses will continue. My own case demonstrates the absurdity of the current situation, and inaction at this stage is nothing less than complicity in the further abuse of the UK legal system, and a sad reflection on the inability of the British government to take blindingly obvious action on protecting fundamental democratic principles.”
Paul Caruana Galizia, reporter at Tortoise, said: “SLAPPs are a real and growing threat to democracy, and we will all benefit from protecting journalists against these abusive lawsuits.” Nina Cresswell, journalist, writer and former SLAPP target: “Many victims of sexual violence already go through immense amounts of internalised shame, especially when failed by the justice system. As a result, social media is now often sadly our last hope to protect others from abuse. But now, when we finally dare speak, we’re punished by SLAPP threats that are designed to destroy. It’s not a fair fight.”
News Media Association director of legal Sayra Tekin said: “SLAPPs pose a serious threat to freedom of speech by the rich and powerful who abuse our legal system to evade legitimate scrutiny. We welcome the government’s commitment to tackling SLAPPs through a package of legislative and non-legislative protections.
“The King’s Speech is the perfect opportunity to move forward with the badly needed legislation which will be critical to rid the UK of insidious SLAPPs once and for all.”
The letter sent to Alex Chalk KC MP with a full list of signatories can be seen here.Keep up-to-date with publishing news: sign up here for InPubWeekly, our free weekly e-newsletter.