By Anja Vladisavljevic
Poland’s ruling Law and Justice, PiS party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski and Croatian public broadcaster HRT were given ‘awards’ on Friday in the first European SLAPP Contest, a parody initiative intended to highlight the use of strategic lawsuits against public participation, or SLAPPs, to intimidate and deter journalists and rights campaigners.
The initiative organised by the Coalition Against SLAPPs in Europe named Kaczynski the “SLAPP politician of the year”, and also gave the Polish right-wing politician the “People’s choice award”.
“Kaczynski, PiS and other state bodies in Poland brought over 50 lawsuits against Gazeta Wyborcza, a local newspaper, and its journalists,” the organisers said.
They also noted that Kaczynski sued law professor Wojciech Sadurski for defamation in response to the professor’s criticism of PiS.
BIRN tried to contact PiS for a comment, but received no reply by the time of publication.
Croatian public broadcaster HRT ‘won’ in another category, ‘Litigation addict of the year’ which is awarded to the individual or organisation that has “the most unhealthy relationship with abusive lawsuits”, the Coalition Against SLAPPs in Europe said.
HRT was nominated because it “has filed a wave of lawsuits against journalists – many of them its own – and other news outlets in the country”, the organisers said. According to them, HRT has filed a total of 36 lawsuits.
Hrvoje Zovko, a veteran HRT reporter and president of the Croatian Journalists’ Association, HND, who was one of the people targeted by the public broadcaster, said that “HRT deserves” the award.
However, he insisted that he “will not be intimidated”.
Two years ago, Zovko annoyed his bosses by speaking out about the state of media freedom in Croatia and alleging censorship at HRT. The broadcaster then sued Zovko for damages.
HRT told BIRN at the time that it had to seek legal redress because Zovko and others “untruthfully claimed that there is censorship within HRT, though they know that none exists”.
BIRN asked HRT to comment on Friday’s ‘award’ and to answer how many lawsuits are currently ongoing in which HRT is suing publishers or journalists, but received no reply.
The European Centre for Press and Media Freedom has described SLAPPs as “abusive lawsuits filed by powerful individuals and companies as a means of silencing critical expression”.
It warned of “a rise in the use of SLAPPs across the continent” and highlighted “the devastating impact such abusive tactics can have on public watchdogs”.