UK: RSF welcomes landmark judgement in SLAPP case against investigative journalist Carole Cadwalladr

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) welcomes the High Court ruling in the case of  investigative journalist Carole Cadwalladr, a laureate of RSF’s press freedom prize and many other prestigious awards, who faced a vexatious defamation case brought by British businessman and political donor Arron Banks. The case is a victory for press freedom and the public interest defence.

Following a five-day trial in January 2021, which representatives from RSF monitored in full, today the High Court announced its judgment in the defamation case brought by Arron Banks against Carole Cadwalladr, concluding that Cadwalladr’s reporting was done in the public interest, and dismissing Bank’s claim. Cadwalladr was sued on the basis of a TED talk and a corresponding tweet sharing a link to the talk, in which she alleged that Banks had lied about his relationship with the Russian government. 

“We are thrilled that the High Court has issued this landmark ruling in favour of press freedom. Today is a victory for Carole Cadwalladr, whose courageous investigative journalism and fight back against this abusive lawsuit will have important implications for press freedom, but also journalism as a whole. We are proud to have stood by her side in this crucial fight,” said Rebecca Vincent, Director of Operations and Campaigns at Reporters Without Borders.

In the judgment handed down on 13 June, Mrs Justice Steyn DBE concluded that “the TED Talk was political expression of high importance, and great public interest (in the strictest sense), not only in this country but worldwide.” The judgment also concluded that as the claimant, Banks failed to prove that the publication of the TED talk caused harm to his reputation, an important criterion in assessing defamation.

Although the judge did not consider the case a SLAPP, RSF and other leading organisations have repeatedly considered this case to be an example of a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP), as it is vexatious in nature and intended to silence Cadwalladr’s courageous investigative journalism.

The ruling has serious implications for journalism not only in the UK, but internationally, given the popularity of London courts as a jurisdiction for such vexatious suits, and highlights the need for greater protections for journalists facing abusive legal threats.

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