The head of the Operations Branch at the time, Maj. Gen. Israel Ziv, comforts a resident during the evacuation of Neve Dekalim, part of the Gaza Disengagement during the summer of 2005. Photo taken from the Flickr page of the Israel Defense Forces

Israel court urged to toss ‘SLAPP’ suit against journalist

Bethlehem/PNN/

International Press Institute report 

IPI Director of Advocacy and Communications Steven M. Ellis urged the court hearing the case against Sheen to dismiss it.“The fact that General Ziv is not suing Channel 2, who first reported the allegations, or Israel Army Radio or The Electronic Intifada, but is instead targeting an independent journalist who is more financially vulnerable to this type of harassment, indicates that this is a classic SLAPP suit that should not be allowed to proceed,”

He said.SLAPPs, short for “strategic lawsuit against public participation”, are meritless suits brought to censor, intimidate or silence those who speak out on issues of public interest by burdening them with the costs of a legal defence.

Even if the individual who spoke out ultimately prevails, the case can require substantial expenditures of money, time and legal resources.“The chilling effect cannot be underestimated,” Ellis explained. “Often brought under the guise of a defamation claim, such suits are intended to pressure defendants through mounting legal costs into abandoning their criticism. They also send a message to other journalists that they, too, may face costly litigation for exercising their fundamental human right to free expression.”

Ellis pointed to jurisdictions in the United States and Canada that have adopted “anti-SLAPP” legislation in a bid to curb suits that are intended to chill public criticism, rather than remedy actual harm. Most of those laws allow a court to throw out the suit at an early stage if the defendant can show that the speech at issue was on an issue of public concern and that he or she is likely to win if the case goes to trial.

Many of the laws also allow the defendant to collect reasonable attorney’s fees from the plaintiff who brought the suit.“SLAPPs allow the wealthy to use the threat of expensive litigation to silence criticism and stifle accountability, striking at the very heart of democracy,” Ellis said, arguing for broader adoption of anti-SLAPP legislation.

“An informed electorate requires that journalists – and everyone – be allowed to share information on matters of public interest without fear of retaliation.”