Last month, the UK Government launched a consultation to address SLAPPs (strategic lawsuits against public participation), highlighting the extent to which legal threats have become a key issue for media freedom in 2022.
SLAPPs are brought by the powerful and wealthy, eager to avoid scrutiny, to intimidate journalists into either not publishing or removing information from the public domain and penalize them for critical reporting. The use of this tactic to undermine the media's role as a public watchdog may have proliferated globally, but the UK has been identified as a jurisdiction of particular concern.
Several recent high profile cases that have reached the London High Courts involving the journalists Catherine Belton, Tom Burgis and Carole Cadwalladr, have significantly raised the public awareness of this issue in the UK. However, these are believed to be the 'tip of the iceberg'.
Media, both here and abroad, have been increasingly reporting that they are face legal threats, especially when investigating powerful and wealthy individuals, facilitated by UK law firms. By its nature, this pre-litigation process has been largely hidden to date. The war in Ukraine has put a focus on how Russian oligarchs may have deployed these legal tactics to launder their reputations and evade questions about their wealth, but these are not the only actors involved.
The inequality of arms many media face when defending a legal challenge in the UK means that information in the public interest is being suppressed on a wide range of issues – from financial crime and corruption to sexual abuse and environmental issues. There is concern, therefore, how this affects not just media but society's right to information and the ability for those carrying out wrongdoing to be held to account.
Organised by the Foreign Policy Centre and ARTICLE 19, this event will bring together affected journalists, media defence lawyers and civil society to explore both the impact of SLAPPs as well as ideas for potential solutions. Sarah Clarke, Head of Europe and Central Asia at ARTICLE 19, will moderate the evening, with speakers including:
- Clare Rewcastle Brown, independent journalist and founder of The Sarawak Report
- Paul Caruana Galizia, reporter at Tortoise Media and co-founder of The Daphne Foundation
- Peter Geoghegan, Editor-in-Chief at openDemocracy and author of Democracy for Sale: Dark Money and Dirty Politics
- Susan Coughtrie, Project Director at the Foreign Policy Centre and co-chair of UK anti-SLAPP coalition
- Charlie Holt, Lawyer, Campaigns Advisor at English PEN and co-chair of UK anti-SLAPP coalition
- Caroline Kean, Media Defence Lawyer and Founder of law firm Wiggin
The event is being held to mark the release of FPC and ARTICLE 19's new joint report 'London Calling', which provides an in-depth look at the issue of legal intimidation and SLAPPs against media emanating from UK. It has been organised with the kind support of the Justice for Journalists Foundation and the law firm Wiggin.