Index on Censorship has filed an alert to the Council of Europe about a defamation action that is being taken against the Dublin Inquirer, its co-founder Sam Tranum and reporter Laoise Neylon. The Council of Europe has formally notified Ireland of the legal action.
The alert is the first media freedom alert on Ireland since the Council of Europe’s alert platform was launched in 2015. The platform catalogues threats to media freedom in the Council of Europe’s 47 member states.
On the back of the alert, Index on Censorship and seven other media freedom organisations have also written to justice minister, Helen McEntee, and foreign affairs minister, Simon Coveney, to express their concerns over the lawsuit.
“We believe that this legal action is a Strategic Lawsuit against Public Participation (Slapp), intended to intimidate and silence an independent media outlet that is reporting in the public interest,” they wrote.
“The aim of a Slapp is not to succeed in court, but to drain their targets of money, time, and energy in an effort to discourage them from reporting further on a particular person or issue,” the letter explains.
The organisations urge the government to pursue reform of Irish defamation law and to support the creation of anti-Slapps legislation at EU level. “We call on you to get behind such measures in order to bring about concrete protections – including an anti-Slapps directive – for freedom of expression, access to information, and ultimately our democracies.”
Click here to read our report on the rise of Slapps.
Read below the letter to McEntee and Coveney in full:
8 September 2020
Dear Minister Helen McEntee TD, Minister for Justice
Dear Minister Simon Coveney TD, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade
Cc: Permanent Representation of Ireland to the EU
Index on Censorship, alongside the undersigned press freedom organisations, are writing to raise our concern about legal action that is being taken against the independent news outlet, the Dublin Inquirer, its co-founder Sam Tranum, and its reporter Laoise Neylon.
As outlined in the media freedom alert that was issued by the Council of Europe today, the Dublin Inquirer is facing a defamation lawsuit for an article it published on its website on 26 August, which reported on an eviction that had taken place in Glasnevin the previous week. Tranum, Neylon, and the Dublin Inquirer, were served with summons on 31 August.
We believe that this legal action is a Strategic Lawsuit against Public Participation (SLAPP), intended to intimidate and silence an independent media outlet that is reporting in the public interest. The aim of a SLAPP is not to succeed in court, but to drain their targets of money, time, and energy in an effort to discourage them from reporting further on a particular person or issue.
The SLAPP that the Dublin Inquirer is facing is just one example of a phenomenon that has become widespread in Europe in recent years: at the time of her death in 2017, Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia had 47 vexatious lawsuits filed against her. This year, the Council of Europe Platform for the Protection of Journalism and Safety of Journalists has recorded SLAPPs in Belgium, Malta, France, Bulgaria, Poland, and Romania – and we have reason to believe that these are just the tip of the iceberg.
The lengthy process and extremely high costs associated with defending a defamation case means that Ireland’s draconian defamation laws are an ideal tool with which to threaten and intimidate. Because of the arduousness of exhausting domestic measures, the European Court of Human Rights provides little practical protection to Irish journalists and media outlets. This means that small media outlets, like the Dublin Inquirer, could face closure when targeted with such legal threats and actions.
We therefore urge you, not only to pursue the long overdue reform of Irish defamation law, but to support the creation of robust anti-SLAPPs legislation at EU level. The European Commission has committed to considering suitable anti-SLAPP measures as part of its upcoming European Democracy Action Plan. We call on you to get behind such measures in order to bring about concrete protections – including an anti-SLAPPs directive – for freedom of expression, access to information, and ultimately our democracies.
Thank you in advance for your consideration of our concerns. We look forward to your response and would be glad to schedule a meeting to discuss in more detail.
Index on Censorship
European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
The Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation
Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL)
Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)