Vance Center Strengthens International Journalism Defense

December 2022

Administrator Samantha Power of the US Agency for International Development announced the launch of Reporters Shield, a program to provide investigative journalism worldwide with defense against defamation claims.  The Vance Center and its longtime client the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project will operate the program, with financial support from USAID and other donors.

Vexatious defamation claims, often called strategic litigation against public participation or SLAPPs, pose a growing challenge to investigative journalism and public interest reporting generally.  Oligarchs, offshore companies, and other practitioners of corruption cynically turn to the courts of the states whose taxes they evade and laws they break to intimidate, distract, and impoverish publications whose stories they dislike.

The Vance Center has helped OCCRP and other clients confront SLAPPs in Europe, Latin America, and sub-Saharan Africa.  This experience will inform the work of Reporters Shield, which will operate as a stand-alone nonprofit organization, providing independent news and other reporting outlets with training and other support to limit the risk of SLAPPs, but also will find and pay for lawyers to defend them if need be.

The launch of Reporters Shield took place at the 2022 International Anti-Corruption Conference.  Vance Center Executive Director Alexander Papachristou participated in the conference workshop Rethinking Safety and Security for Investigative Journalists, coordinated by USAID and moderated by Rosarie Tucci, Director of USAID’s Center for Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance.  Papachristou introduced Reporters Shield and fielded questions from the audience.

At the launch, OCCRP issued a press release, explaining that Reporters Shield will be available to public interest reporting organizations in most countries by the summer of 2023.  Organizations will be eligible to participate if they meet certain criteria and pay an annual fee.  This income and further philanthropy will enable Reporters Shield to pay the legal defense costs for participants and cover its operating costs.