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The SLAPP culture

SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) suits refer to the threat or use of legal action that stifles public debate on contentious issues. Premier Campbell Newman used a SLAPP suit against Alan Jones in the recent election campaign over claims Jones made about the Acland Mine.

In the article below ‘Litigation is now the new censorship in reporting the news in the 21st century’, National Indigenous Times columnist, and TJRyan Research Associate, Dr Woolombi Waters, discusses the increasing tendency of neo-conservative governments to indulge in SLAPP suits to silence dissent, and a current threat to viability of the National Indigenous Times:

‘ … at the end of last year the National Indigenous Times was left with no alternative but to enter into voluntary administration after incurring significant legal debts relating to two separate actions, one a defamation action and one relating to a claim of unfair dismissal by a former Editor of the publication.

‘The loss of the National Indigenous Times as a voice and champion for the rights of First Peoples is a massive blow to freedom of speech and the rights of Aboriginal Australians in this country.

‘The National Indigenous Times has won several awards for its reporting, including a Walkley award and myself, Gerry Georgatos and Geoff Bagnall were all awarded Australian Multicultural and Indigenous Media Awards last year.’

‘ … SLAPPs have been directed against individuals and groups who have spoken in public forums on a wide variety of issues, particularly against property development, fracking and other mining activities or on subjects like the actions of public officials, environmental damage or pollution and unwanted land use.

‘They have also been used against those who have worked publicly for the rights of consumers, workers, women, minorities and others. SLAPP defendants have been sued for apparently lawful actions such as circulating a petition, writing to a local newspaper, speaking at public meetings, reporting violations of the law or even participation in peaceful demonstrations.

‘While most SLAPPs are legally meritless, they can effectively achieve their principal purpose which is to stop public debate on specific issues because defending a SLAPP requires substantial money, time and legal resources and therefore takes the defendant away from operational issues.’

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