Matthew Caruana Galizia, son of murdered journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, grew up believing all journalists faced SLAPP (strategic lawsuits against public participation) suits and it was only when he was older that he learnt this was not the norm for everyone.
Caruana Galizia spoke about his experience during a meeting of the European Parliament's LIBE/JURI committees on Thursday, saying his mother, who was killed in a car bomb in 2017, had for years faced such vexatious threats.
SLAPP suits are filed to deter and muzzle critics - mostly journalists and media houses - by weighing them down with the cost of a legal defence until they stop their criticism or opposition.
"I had seen the effects of the many defamation suits against my mother. Growing up, I thought these kind of lawsuits were normal and it’s the price you had to pay for being a journalist.
"It was when I met other journalists that I learnt this was not normal and it is not something journalists should endure," Caruana Galizia said.
The journalist's son also outlined the importance of increase in support to journalists through non-governmental organisations and other mechanisms.
"We were left with around 40 to 50 libel cases which we inherited, and it was only thanks to the support from NGOs that we could continue fighting these cases. We would have effectively gone bankrupt and been unable to continue investigating the murder itself," he said.
The European Parliament is working on a joint report aimed at getting as far-reaching agreement about the SLAPP suits, with Maltese MEP Roberta Metsola co-leading efforts.
According to Caruana Galizia, following the setting up of the The Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation, the family of the journalist together with NGOs discovered there was a "pattern across Europe". This, he said, involved both European and non-European companies using different jurisdictions to "shut up" journalists.
"Our objective is to make sure this abuse ends. This is why I am here to ask all those present to support the EU anti-SLAPP directive.
"Most of the SLAPP lawsuits happen in silence and very often the journalists are so intimidated that they do not speak up about the threat itself and as a citizen you would not know the truth was being distorted," Caruana Galizia said.
MEPs have been lobbying for anti-SLAPP rules for years, with the issue making headlines more recently as cases aimed at silencing government critics and media houses rise.
A number of local media organisations and journalists, including Times of Malta, have faced libel suits in foreign jurisdictions in recent years.
A Slapp suit against Times of Malta was filed by Satabank co-owner Christo Georgiev in Bulgaria over alleged damage to his reputation.
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