New Guardian Article Shows How SLAPPs Are an International Problem

Mar 04, 13

Will EDF become the Barbra Streisand of climate protest?

The energy giant is part of a global strategy by corporations to stifle democracy. Clearly it hasn’t heard of the Streisand effect

Without public protest, democracy is dead. Every successful challenge to excessive power begins outside the political chamber. When protest stops, politics sclerotises: it becomes a conversation between different factions of the elite.

But protest is of no democratic value unless it is effective. It must disturb and challenge those at whom it is aimed. It must arouse and motivate those who watch. The climate change campaigners trying to prevent a new dash for gas wrote to their MPs, emailed the power companies, marched and lobbied. They were ignored. So last year 17 of them climbed the chimney of the West Burton power station and occupied it for a week. Theirs was a demonstration in two senses of the word: they presented an issue to the public that should be at the front of our minds. Prompted to act by altruism and empathy, one day they will be remembered as we remember suffragettes and anti-slavery campaigners.

Last week the operator of the power station – EDF, largely owned by the French government – announced that it is suing these people, and four others, for £5m. It must know that, if it wins, the protesters have no hope of paying. It must know that they would lose everything they own, now and for the rest of their lives. For these and other reasons, EDF’s action looks to me like a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation – a SLAPP around the ear of democracy.

SLAPPs are attempts to bully people into political submission through inordinate demands. Their purpose is to terrify and enmesh. Even if they stand no chance of success, they ensure that campaigners who might otherwise have been trying to protect the environment or to defend workers’ rights are instead snarled up in the courts. Often, whatever the merits of the case, people will agree to leave the company alone if it drops the suit.

Read the full article from the Guardian here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/feb/25/edf-west-burton-streisand-effect?goback=.gde_1911771_member_217472976

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