Clearer rules are needed to protect not only the victims of cross-border defamation, but also journalists accused of it, says a resolution approved this week by the European Parliament.
"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 an earlier debate. "I hope the Commission will respond to our proposal in a short period of time."
According to the resolution, enhancing legal clarity should cut the cost of court cases, thus reducing the risk of a "chilling effect" on press freedom and improving access to justice.
The proposed measures should 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 also be included in the existing EU regulation on the law applicable to non-contractual obligations, known as "Rome II".
Under the proposals, 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.
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.
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.