MLDI Annual Report. Threats to journalists are increasing in innovative ways

What the non-profit association, MLDI – based in London and active in 65 countries (in Italy in collaboration with Ossigeno) – has done in 2019 to assist 329 journalists and media operators

In 2019, the non-profit association Media Defence Legal Initiative (MDLI) which is based in London and collaborates with Ossigeno per l’Informazione, provided free specialist legal assistance to 329 journalists and bloggers from 65 countries around the world (including Italy) by allocating funds raised through ad hoc donations.  In 2019, out of a total of 329, 116 new cases were recorded: the most numerous in one year since the birth  of the Association in 2008.

THE FIGURES – Of the 116 new cases of legal assistance begun in 2019, 45 are considered of strategic importance because “they could potentially improve the general climate in which the media operate”. In Italy, thanks to the support of MLDI, Ossigeno has provided free legal assistance to dozens of journalists and bloggers in difficulty. See

A further 72 are legal defences for emergency situations.

During the year, lawyers who offered their pro-bono professional services participated in 16 trials. 74% of assisted journalists continued to work after the court case ended. Funds raised in 2019 reached £2.8 million (including £1.1 million in pro bono and other in-kind services), a 132% increase over 2018.

Without the help of MLDI and its local partners, these journalists and bloggers would not have been able to have their cases prevail in the face of instrumental and unjust judicial actions. The positive balance of MLDI’s activities is summarised in the 2019 Annual Report just published.  Read at -% 2004% 20FINAL.pdf

THE CASES – MLDI explains that it has supported the legal fees of journalists forced to “face expensive and complex lawsuits brought to silence them”. By now, according to the report, representatives of official bodies also make frequent use of lawsuits to intimidate the authors of critical journalism and in particular to harass high-profile information professionals, “Defamation laws are abused to intimidate the media and stifle legitimate criticism of public figures and institutions.”

NATIONAL PARTNERS – In 13 countries MLDI intervenes in collaboration with national partners. The Italian partner is Ossigeno per l’Informazione (Oxygen for Information).

A DETERIORATING CLIMATE– The report highlights the worrying increase in lawsuits of this type worldwide.

“The context in which we operate – says MLDI – is getting worse. Independent journalism is under threat like never before. And more and more journalists often face these threats alone, without the protection of strong publishing companies or effective legal representation.“One of the consequences of the polarization of political life in the main western democracies, in the United States, in Great Britain, in Italy and so on – states the MLDI president Robert Jobbins – is an increase in the refusal to distinguish between facts and opinions. To some extent, this is a reflection of the massive migration of the debate and public discussion on social media and of the documented trend of growth of related communities that grow around particular strongly supported points of view “.

“Journalism has moved increasingly online – adds Alinda Vermeer, CEO and head of the legal group – and new online threats have emerged. Responding to these threats in innovative ways was a priority in 2019. For example, extending our support to fact-checkers who because of their work receive threats through legal means. In this field, we are facing demanding challenges. “

THE TESTIMONIES – The report contains testimonies from some of the best known of those assisted, including the American journalist Kelly Duda and the journalist Raffaella Cosentino, assisted in Italy by Ossigeno with the contribution of MLDI.

“Faced with the charge of a crime that I did not commit – says Kelly Duda – Media Defence came to my rescue. I am grateful for the legal support provided by its partners. Freedom cannot exist without freedom of speech and a free press.

“Thanks to the support I had – says Raffaella Cosentino – in the last three years I have never felt alone or intimidated. Having free legal aid is fundamental for freelance journalists who are not supported by a publisher. “

SIGNIFICANT CASES – Among the most significant legal cases successfully concluded in 2019, the report cites the civil lawsuit filed in September 2017 by Scientology against journalists Giuseppe Borrella and Andrea Sceresini, who had infiltrated the organisation to document internal practices such as exploitative work and psychological and commercial pressures. The case, supported in collaboration with Ossigeno per l’Informazione has been dismissed.

TRAINING OF LEGAL EXPERTS – In 2019 MLDI continued its activity for the training of 48 lawyers expert in digital information.

ONLINE JOURNALISM – One of the strategic fields of MDLI’s activities is the contrast between the myriad threats associated with digital journalism, with online surveillance and social media and the Internet in general. “Winning exemplary cases in this sector – notes the report – is important for creating positive precedents that will have effects throughout the areas where the rulings apply, thus helping to align them with international standards on freedom of expression “.

IMPRISONMENT – Another important area of ​​work is that of the imprisonment of journalists, used by authoritarian regimes that not only arrest them but sentence them to long prison terms. During 2019 MLDI joined a Russian organization, the Mass Media Defence Centre (MMDC), and a Ukrainian organization, the Human Rights Platform (HRP) in two cases opened before the European Court for Human Rights related to the protection of information gathering and its sources.

INTERNET SUPPRESSION – Among the cases dealt with, even the more frequent ones – reports the report – is the suppression of the Internet in West Africa and other areas of the continent.

A CITIZEN JOURNALISM CASE – A case considered by MLDI of particular importance is that of Elena Popa, one of the many Romanians who work in Austria as carers. The woman had created a Facebook group which highlighted “dishonest intermediaries” reported. The group had 24 thousand participants. After two years the Facebook page was closed and in Romania numerous civil cases were brought against her by Romanian intermediaries, for the posts published on the group she administered. After several legal battles, in December 2019 MLDI and the Romanian lawyer following the affair successfully brought the case before the European Court of Human Rights, maintaining among other things the argument that Elena Popa was carrying out journalism activities in the public interest and which, therefore, was entitled to the protection provided for in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which affirms the right to freedom of expression. This can be a pilot case, underlines the report, for the protection of citizen journalism and for the protection of vulnerable social groups. MLDI notes that Elena Popa’s court case reveals the growing trend in Europe and around the world to resort to judicial authorities “to repress journalists, bloggers, academics and activists engaged in active journalism carried out for the public interest”.

LB / ASP /wt



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