The European Commission has presented a draft law to curb the rise of “gagging procedures” on journalists and human rights activists.
The new legislation will help prevent governments or businesses from trying to intimidate critics by exhausting their resources or tying them up in costly court proceedings.
Activists would also be able to claim compensation if they can prove that defamation cases against them are “abusive” or “manifestly unfounded”.
The directive proposed would allow courts to dismiss these cross-border cases early and burden the powerful claimant with the legal costs.
‘Wealth and power cannot give advantage over truth’
Press freedom campaigners such as Reporters Without Borders have welcomed the move as an “important step forward” but have called for the new law’s scope to be widened.
The EU has said there is “serious concern” over the rise of so-called SLAPPs — strategic lawsuits against public participation.
Before her death in 2017, Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia faced more than 40 defamation lawsuits.
“[SLAPPs] are a recent but increasingly prevalent phenomenon in the European Union,” the Commission said on Wednesday.
“In a democracy, wealth and power cannot give anyone an advantage over truth,” added Vera Jourová, EU Commissioner for Values and Transparency.
“With these measures, we are helping to protect those who take risks and speak up when the public interest is at stake.”
According to Brussels, just four member states have considered introducing specific safeguards to protect advocates from “gagging procedures”.
The bloc says it will now encourage countries to deal with such defamation cases in civil rather than criminal law.
The 27 EU countries and the European Parliament still need to approve the proposals before they come into effect.