UK: RSF supports calls for amendments to proposed anti-SLAPP bill to better protect journalists against abuses of law

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) supports calls made by the House of Lords Communications and Digital Select Committee for the UK government to make crucial amendments to an anti-SLAPP bill making its way through parliament. Passing the bill without changes could end up undermining efforts to protect journalists against such abuses of law. 

The UK parliament is currently considering a standalone law aimed at countering lawsuits and legal intimidation that seek to silence journalists, known as Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation or SLAPPs. The bill, introduced as a Private Member’s Bill by Wayne David MP, is one of several measures underway to strengthen protections for journalists and others targeted by SLAPPs. 

Following a 7 May evidence session with expert witnesses including RSF’s UK Director, the select committee has published a letter to Justice Minister Alex Chalk KC MP calling for the proposed law to be strengthened. In it, committee chair Baroness Stowell outlines a number of needed improvements, and notes that “the consequences of passing legislation containing technical flaws could be grave”.

The proposed anti-SLAPP law, combined with other non-legislative initiatives already underway, has the potential to be a game-changer for public interest journalism in the UK, but only if the government gets it right. It is essential that lawmakers produce a law that is strong enough to be effective – otherwise there is a risk of undermining the real progress Britain has been making towards combating these damaging abuses of law.

Fiona O'Brien
RSF UK Bureau Director

The bill has limited time to make its way through parliament if it is to become law. It follows on from the government’s introduction in June of an amendment to the Economic Crimes and Corporate Transparency Act tackling some – but crucially not all – SLAPPs. The UK has also set up an anti-SLAPP taskforce to look at non-legislative ways of combating SLAPPs, on which RSF sits. 

In her letter to the justice minister, Baroness Stowell set out a number of recommendations, including introducing stronger measures against intimidatory pre-action protocols, updating the regulator’s fining powers, preventing law firms from outsourcing harmful activities to PR or private intelligence firms and establishing a SLAPPs defence fund to help with early stage legal fees.

Beyond SLAPPs, the committee also raised concerns around transnational repression of journalists in the UK, and asked the government to provide an update on any action taken to address inconsistencies in the way police record crimes against journalists, both issues RSF has repeatedly raised. 

The UK is ranked 23rd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2024 World Press Freedom Index

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