UK: RSF joins new taskforce to tackle abusive lawsuits against journalists
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) welcomes the UK government’s establishment of a taskforce charged with finding ways to protect journalists from abusive lawsuits designed to intimidate and silence them.
Strategic lawsuits against public participation, also known as SLAPPs or gag suits, have increasingly been used by the rich and powerful to threaten journalists investigating matters of public interest. The high cost of legal action in the UK has made it a particularly effective and popular jurisdiction for such cases.
The new taskforce, which includes RSF, will consider non-legislative ways to crack down on such suits, intended to boost legislative anti-SLAPP efforts currently underway. The inaugural meeting took place on Monday 11 September.
It is very encouraging to see SLAPPs being recognised as a serious and growing threat to public interest reporting. While there is still a need for comprehensive anti-SLAPP legislation in the UK, we look forward to working with our partners on the taskforce to develop complementary measures to protect journalists from such emotionally and financially costly suits
In June, the UK government proposed an amendment to the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill which, once introduced, should tackle SLAPPs linked to economic crime. While welcoming the amendment as a good first step, RSF and partners in the UK Anti-SLAPP Coalition have called for a standalone law to cover all kinds of SLAPPs.
The taskforce, which will report back to the National Committee for the Safety of Journalism on which RSF also sits, includes representatives from the media and legal industries, as well as from government. It will meet every two months over the coming year.
Among other measures, it is expected to commission research into the prevalence of SLAPPs used against journalists; to explore how legal services regulation could be used to prevent or mitigate SLAPPs; to draw up plans for specialist training for judges and legal professionals; and to develop guidance to support journalists and their employers.
The UK is ranked 26th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2023 World Press Freedom Index.