Source/Author: TUCJ
Source/Photo: TUCJ

The dilution of the SLAPP directive at the Council of the European Union has been met with dismay by numerous professional organizations and trade unions. Therefore, the Trade Union of Croatian Journalists (TUCJ) has sent an open letter to the President of the Government of the Republic of Croatia, Andrej Plenković, Minister of Culture and Media, Nina Obuljen Koržinek, and Minister of Justice and Administration, Ivan Malenica, as announced by TUCJ, and the letter is reproduced in its entirety.

Dear Prime Minister Plenković, Minister Obuljen Koržinek, and Minister Malenica,

During the celebration of Slobodna Dalmacija’s anniversary, Prime Minister, you mentioned that a new Media Law is being prepared, and you also announced changes related to the Electronic Media Council.

We take this opportunity to remind you that the European Commission’s Rule of Law Report warned that: “Council members are appointed by a simple majority vote in parliament for a five-year term, which can be renewed. The appointment of bodies under the control of the parliamentary majority continues to be considered a potential threat to the political independence of regulators.”

We believe that it is the Government’s primary task to finally ensure the independence of regulators, and we expect changes in that direction.

In the same report, the European Commission emphasizes that “Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP) targeting journalists remain a significant concern. SLAPP continues to pose a significant financial risk to journalists and has a chilling effect on the media. These lawsuits, which often target journalists personally (rather than media houses), continue to have a strong impact on the media, threatening the survival of smaller, local media and independent journalists.

There are still numerous examples of lawsuits against journalists initiated by politicians or public officials, including judges.” “Many SLAPP cases against journalists are based on allegations of defamation, humiliation, or insult.”

Therefore, we are quite surprised that during the debate at the Council of the European Union, the representative of the Croatian government and the Ministry of Justice and Administration supported the common position on the Anti-SLAPP directive.

The EU Council significantly dilutes the European Commission’s proposal, and the EU Council’s proposal falls far short of the original purpose of the act: to protect journalists and the right to information in the European Union and is far below what the European Commission has proposed so far. The EU Council’s position does not offer an effective and efficient framework for stopping SLAPPs because:

  • it intends to limit the scope of the directive to purely “cross-border” cases, i.e., cases where criminal prosecution takes place in another EU member state;
  • it excludes civil claims brought in criminal proceedings from the scope of the directive;
  • it significantly weakens the mechanism of early dismissal of the lawsuit by proposing a restrictive definition of “manifestly unfounded cases” and excluding the possibility of appealing decisions rejecting the early dismissal of the lawsuit;
  • the provision on compensation for those targeted by SLAPP lawsuits is deleted.

During the Council meeting, representatives of Croatia supported the Council’s position. They agreed with the “balanced” approach, as well as allowing the necessary “flexibility” at the national level and giving “more discretion to national courts.” The extent of this discretion in national courts is best evidenced by the large number of SLAPP lawsuits in Croatia, which ranks it among the top in Europe, and often nonsensical judgments against journalists.

Support for strong and independent journalism should not be merely declarative. We expect the Croatian Government, at both the national and European levels, to contribute to strengthening the protection of journalists’ free work and support a system that will protect them from SLAPP lawsuits.

Maja Sever, President of the Trade Union of Croatian Journalists