Today’s judgement in the UK libel case brought against Observer and Guardian journalist and Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation advisor Carole Cadwalladr is a victory for press freedom. If the plaintiff, Brexit backer Arron Banks, had won, Cadwalladr faced being liable for his costs - estimated at between £750,000 and £1m - together with any resultant damages.
Banks sued Cadwalladr personally for defamation over her claims that he had lied about his relationship with the Russian state. She had made her remarks in a Ted Talk and in a tweet in the wake of her investigation into the now defunct firm, Cambridge Analytica, which resulted in Mark Zuckerberg being called before Congress and Facebook losing more than $100 billion from its share price. Cadwalladr also uncovered multiple crimes committed during the UK’s referendum on EU membership and evidence of Russian interference in Brexit. The investigations were published in the Observer and Guardian, yet Banks sued Cadwalladr personally, rather than her employer.
The case highlights the crucial role of public interest reporting to a functioning democracy and the urgent need for legislation and other measures to prevent powerful litigants instrumentalising the law to suppress their critics. In April this year, the EU announced a package of anti-SLAPP measures and the Council of Europe tasked a Committee of Experts with drafting a Recommendation on SLAPPs in member states. These measures have yet to take effect across Europe.