Aberdeen University hosts roundtable on defending freedom of the press

Aberdeen University hosts roundtable on defending freedom of the press

Speakers from across politics, journalism, academia, legal practice and civil society came together at the University of Aberdeen on Friday to discuss the protection of free speech in the media.

The roundtable event, hosted by the Anti-SLAPP Research Hub at the School of Law, was focused on experiences of strategic litigation against public participation (SLAPPs), with a view to developing a model Anti-SLAPP law for Scotland.

SLAPPs use the judicial process for purposes other than genuinely asserting, vindicating or exercising a right, aim to suppress communication on matters of public interest, and produce a broader chilling effect on free speech.

The use of SLAPPs to intimidate and silence public watchdogs is on the rise globally. This has led to action by the European Union, Council of Europe, and the UK government. However, Scotland has yet to seriously entertain calls for Anti-SLAPP legislation.

The one-day workshop built on research and advocacy efforts by the Anti-SLAPP Research Hub at the European and national level.

Influential speakers in attendance included Gill Philips, director of editorial legal services at The Guardian; Rosalind McInnes, legal director at BBC Scotland; Charlie Holt, legal consultant at Greenpeace and the Coalition Against SLAPPs in Europe (CASE); Matthew Caruana Galizia, director of The Daphne Foundation; Susan Coughtrie, director of the Foreign Policy Centre; Nik Sunil Williams, policy and campaigns officer at Index on Censorship; Professor Dirk Voorhoof of Ghent University and founding member of the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom; and humanitarian campaigner and former MP Roger Mullin.

“SLAPPs allow any individual or organisation with deep enough pockets to use the economic and psychological threat of legal action to pressure journalists not to publish what they know to be true,” said convener Professor Borg Barthet.

Dr Farrington added: “Through inaction, Scotland risks becoming a haven for SLAPP. SLAPPs have a chilling effect on free speech, impoverish political debate and overburden the court system with vexatious or frivolous litigation.”

Dr Ferguson said: “The workshop was extremely informative and constructive. We were pleased to be able to bring such a diverse group of experts from across a wide range of sectors together to discuss the practical steps that can be taken to develop a model Anti-SLAPP law for Scotland.”

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