OCCRP and Partners Announce “Reporters Shield”
Legal protection for investigative reporting will help defend media outlets against vexatious lawsuits.
To confront the growing threat of lawsuits intended to intimidate and silence independent media around the world, OCCRP and its partners are introducing Reporters Shield, a new program that will defend investigative reporting from legal harassment, such as “strategic lawsuits against public participation,” or SLAPPs.
Developed with the Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice of the New York City Bar Association and funded with an initial $9 million investment from USAID, Reporters Shield will pay for legal defense against lawsuits, and help avoid them in the first place through training and pre-publication review.
“SLAPP-happy law firms and their clients have intimidated and handicapped investigative journalism for too long,” said OCCRP Publisher Drew Sullivan. “Reporters Shield will provide a coordinated international response that will protect and facilitate investigative reporting. We are grateful to USAID for its initial investment, which will bolster public interest reporting and press freedom around the world.”
The alarming increase in SLAPP cases corresponds to the rise of authoritarianism across the world and the transnational expansion of corruption and organized crime. For the last 15 years, OCCRP has had a front row seat to this growing menace, with a steady stream of suits filed against its global network by crime figures, corrupt government officials, and politically connected businessmen. Currently, OCCRP is fighting 42 SLAPPs and recently launched its own “OCCRP SLAPPs Back” legal defense fund to support the journalists and outlets in its network.
“Reporters Shield will engage with lawyers in places where independent journalism faces legal threats to defend against them,” said Alexander Papachristou, executive director of the Vance Center. “Protecting media freedom is a cornerstone of democratic governance and the rule of law.”
The Vance Center has for many years helped OCCRP and other journalism clients defend themselves against defamation and similar legal threats in the U.K., Europe, the United States, Central America, and elsewhere, working with local law firms.
Reporters Shield will be available to media and other public interest reporting outlets in most countries by the summer of 2023. Organizations will be eligible to participate if they meet certain criteria and pay an annual fee. Sign up to receive updates and more information at Reporters Shield.
Contact: Communications Officer Lauren Jackman, firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) is a global network of investigative journalists with staff across six continents and offices in Amsterdam, Sarajevo, and Washington, D.C. A nonprofit, independent news organization, OCCRP partners with and supports 50+ local media outlets around the world to expose crime and corruption.