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From the 8th Annual Shorty Impact Awards


Entered in News & Media


SLAPPs - strategic lawsuits against public participation - are filed to silence, intimidate, and financially burden journalists and media organizations. At the end of 2022, the OCCRP global network was battling 41 of these lawsuits. This is indicative of the alarming increase in SLAPPs around the world.

Getting sued is a David-and-Goliath scenario for most journalists. The wealthy, powerful, and corrupt have endless pots of money, amounts of time, and access to lawyers specifically trained in targeting journalists to try to cripple and stifle them.

OCCRP partner journalists, on the other hand, are typically from small, scrappy nonprofit outlets who have limited resources and must take valuable time away from their work to focus on their defense, while paying for expensive attorneys and court costs.

Many independent media around the world are already facing a host of existential threats. Journalists must have enough resources to battle SLAPPs so they can’t get sued out of business or be forced to censor content.

Experience shows that journalists usually win frivolous lawsuits in jurisdictions where there is effective rule of law. OCCRP launched the "Help OCCRP SLAPP Back” campaign to build an in-house legal defense fund to help our network mount a vigorous response to these baseless suits. Our goal was to raise $100,000 in six weeks.

As of August 2023, the number of lawsuits has increased to 63 — and OCCRP will fight every single one of them.

Strategy and Execution

We quickly put together the "Help OCCRP SLAPP Back" campaign and asked for donations for the newly created "OCCRP SLAPPs Back" in-house legal defense fund to help our network mount a vigorous response to these baseless suits. Our goal was to raise $100,000.

Featuring first-person video testimonies from journalists in our global network who are each fighting multiple lawsuits, the campaign underscores some of the absurd aspects of this legal type of bullying.

“We have more SLAPP lawsuits than we have reporters,” said Stevan Dojčinović, the editor in chief of KRIK, a Serbian media outlet that focuses on crime and corruption, and is battling 11 lawsuits.

In North Macedonia, Saska Cvetkovska once attended five court trials in one day. She has had to run daily editorial meetings of the publication she edits, Investigative Reporting Lab Macedonia, in the hallways of a courtroom.

“SLAPPS are a common thing for us and defending ourselves is part of our daily job,” says Cecilia Anesi, an investigative reporter at IrpiMedia, the online magazine of the Investigative Reporting Project Italy (IRPI) journalism center she co-founded. In Italy, journalists can be sued in criminal court, where a guilty verdict for defamation could lead to jail time, or civil court, which could bankrupt a small media outlet like IrpiMedia, since there is no limit on the amount of damages sought. 

Despite the attempt to suppress reporting, these lawsuits can have the opposite effect for OCCRP investigative journalists, encouraging them to dig deeper into the plaintiff’s activities to find out what it is they want to keep secret.

We ran the campaign for six weeks and promoted it on our website with a banner encouraging people to donate and a dedicated web page. We publicized the campaign through social media and in our newsletter and pushed readers to YouTube to view the videos. We mentioned the campaign at several events and conferences where staff were speaking. We worked with our press freedom partners who helped amplify our mission, such as Coalition Against SLAPPS in Europe. 

Challenges included having very little time to mount the campaign and no budget. Our videographer was from one of our media member centers and he worked on the project in the evenings after working his day job.


We raised more than our $100,000 goal during the six weeks. The personal stories of our journalists under threat resonated and when we asked our readers to stand up for independent investigative journalism, they answered the call. We are profoundly grateful for this. Our messaging also connected the importance of our work in bolstering democracy.

We will need to keep fundraising for the fund because as sure as we will keep reporting, we will keep getting sued. “The oligarchs and others who sue us want to keep their illicit activities hidden and to keep us quiet, which we can't do because we work in the public interest,” said OCCRP Co-Founder Paul Radu, who battled a two-year SLAPP case in the U.K. “We can't be silent and we won't be silenced. When you get SLAPPed, you have to fight back. You have to go all in.”

"The ‘OCCRP SLAPPs Back' fund will be used to combat these SLAPP-happy law firms representing crime figures, corrupt government officials, and politically connected businessmen who want to muffle our reporting,” said OCCRP Publisher Drew Sullivan. "Having the funds to mount a vigorous defense makes a big difference. We’re going to win if we can mount a defense. They’re relying on the fact we can’t.”

The campaign succeeded because we presented the right message through the right channels to the right audience. Of course, we wish we weren't in this situation to begin with. But as independent media reporting on tough stories in the public interest, this is the reality of the world we're living in today.



Entrant Company / Organization Name

Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP)


Entry Credits