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Cross-border defamation by the press

Clearer rules are needed to protect not only the victims of cross-border defamation, but also journalists accused of it, says a resolution approved on Thursday.

"Publishers should not be expected to know what the legislation is in every country in Europe: (...) everybody needs to know what the rules of the game are", said author of the resolution Cecilia Wikström (ALDE, SE), in a debate on Wednesday. "I hope the Commission will respond to our proposal in a short period of time", she added.

Enhancing legal clarity would cut the cost of court cases, thus reducing the risk of a "chilling effect" on press freedom and improving access to justice, says the text.

The proposed measures should also reduce the risk of "forum shopping" in which a claimant chooses the jurisdiction thought likeliest to produce a favourable result. They would also ensure that journalists do not risk having to deal with differing national sets of laws.

Rules on defamation and breach of privacy should be included in the existing EU regulation on the law applicable to non-contractual obligations, known as "Rome II", adds the text.

Specific case of defamation by media

Under the proposal, if a French journalist were accused in a German court of defaming a German citizen, the German court would have to apply the relevant French law.

The resolution also proposes that in cases of cross-border libel by printed media or slander by audiovisual ones, the law to apply should be that of the country to which the publication or the broadcast is "directed", as determined by reference to language, sales figures and/or audience size. Where this proves impossible to determine, then the law of the publisher's country of residence should apply.

Right of reply

The right of reply and preventive or remedial measures against a publication or broadcast would be subject to the law of the country in which the publisher usually resides.

Background on Rome II: helping people solving cross-border disputes

The provisions on defamation were not included in the regulation in 2007, since Parliament and Council, despite lengthy discussions, could not agree on a common proposal.

The legislation, adopted in 2007, aims to facilitate litigation between citizens from different EU countries on matters such as traffic accidents, accidents caused by defective products and environmental damage, by establishing which national law would be applicable to each case. This would avoid lengthy and costly conflicts of competence in cases where the laws of more than one Member State may apply.

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