Avisa Partners Drops SLAPPs against Several French Media
In an effort to avoid being seen as suppressing press freedom, a French firm specializing in economic intelligence and internet influence strategy has decided to suspend legal proceedings against several French media outlets. These legal actions were classified as strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs).
In September 2022, Avisa Partners filed defamation lawsuits against the media outlets Mediapart, Arrêt sur Images, and Reflets. The firm also issued formal notices to the media organizations Next Inpact, ADN, and Les Miroirs du Nord, demanding the removal of specific references pertaining to its activities, particularly disinformation campaigns conducted on behalf of large corporations or foreign governments, from their journalistic investigations.
"After a series of exchanges with the EFJ, Arnaud Dassier, Chairman of Avisa Partners, informed us that 'in the interests of appeasement and with the desire not to be associated with proceedings that could be interpreted as seeking to hinder press freedom, Avisa Partners has decided to withdraw all the complaints it had filed against various media'," said the EFJ in a statement.
"We have taken note of Mr. Dassier's clarification and thank him for his decision to withdraw all legal proceedings against media outlets that have criticized Avisa Partners in any way," said EFJ General Secretary Ricardo Gutiérrez.
According to EFJ, Avisa Partners denied accusations of being "e-influence mercenaries" and stated that its actions were carried out in full compliance with the law.
The company also said that the criticism directed at it did not prompt any investigation by French legal authorities.
The EFJ believes that Avisa Partners has the right to contest the articles that targeted the group and its activities last year by claiming that they had “revealed that Avisa Partners’ activities included lobbying, e-influence, and disinformation,” but that journalists also have the right to view these digital activities as a form of disinformation.
The use of the term "disinformation" by the press does not necessarily imply that it should be interpreted solely in its legal sense, it said.
Regarding the surveillance of Atanas Tchobanov, a journalist from the Bulgarian OCCRP partner investigative news outlet Bivol, Avisa Partners claims that it simply gathered open-source information about him to contribute to a dossier on corruption in Bulgaria, aimed specifically at demonstrating the credibility of Tchobanov's testimony.
In this case, the French courts dismissed all accusations against Avisa Partners regarding this surveillance.