Open

Coming up

Don't miss

Replay


LATEST SHOWS

MEDIAWATCH

Netanyahu deletes tweet featuring photo of James Foley

Read more

THE WORLD THIS WEEK

The World This Week - 22 August 2014 (part 2)

Read more

THE WORLD THIS WEEK

The World This Week - 22 August 2014

Read more

FRANCE IN FOCUS

FRANCE IN FOCUS

Read more

FOCUS

Lifting the veil over China's air pollution

Read more

ENCORE!

Tango Takeover in Paris

Read more

WEB NEWS

Calls for ISIS media blackout after execution of James Foley

Read more

IN THE PAPERS

'Steely resolve of reporters exploited by pared-down employers'

Read more

BUSINESS DAILY

US judge calls Argentina bond swap offer illegal

Read more

  • French teenage girls held over Syria jihad plans

    Read more

  • Iceland issues aviation alert on volcano activity

    Read more

  • France will not be 'be pushed around' by Germany

    Read more

  • ‘European GPS’ satellites launched into wrong orbit

    Read more

  • Merkel in Kiev as aid convoy ‘returns to Russia’

    Read more

  • Suicide bomber targets Iraq intelligence HQ in deadly attack

    Read more

  • Video: Israel bombs kidnapping suspect’s home

    Read more

  • US brands journalist’s beheading a ‘terrorist attack’

    Read more

  • Ebola prompts Philippines to recall UN troops in Liberia

    Read more

  • Besieged by problems, Hollande faces unhappy return from summer holidays

    Read more

  • US sued over ‘deportation mill’ in New Mexico

    Read more

  • Colombian army and FARC rebels in face-to-face talks

    Read more

  • US National Guard starts to pull out of embattled Ferguson

    Read more

  • PSG fall flat once more against Evian

    Read more

  • US job market yet to recover from recession, says Fed Chair

    Read more

  • August 22, 1914: The bloodiest day in French military history

    Read more

  • Fear of Ebola sky-high among Air France workers

    Read more

  • US says Islamic State threat 'beyond anything we've seen'

    Read more

  • Interactive: Relive the Liberation of Paris in WWII

    Read more

Europe

Press freedom prevails after parliament gag attempt is dropped

Text by Tony Todd

Latest update : 2009-10-19

In what is seen as a victory for press freedom in the UK, lawyers for an oil trading firm which allegedly dumped toxic waste in Ivory Coast have withdrawn an attempt to prevent the media from publishing an MP’s question tabled in parliament.

Lawyers for an international oil trading firm have withdrawn an attempt to stop a UK national newspaper from reporting an MP’s question in the British parliament after a spontaneous online campaign.

Carter-Ruck, a law firm representing London-based oil traders Trafigura, had tried to prevent the Guardian newspaper from reporting a question asked in Parliament by Labour MP Paul Farrelly, the newspaper claimed.

The question itself concerned press freedom and Trafigura’s previously-obtained court injunction forbidding the media from publishing material relating to the dumping of allegedly toxic oil waste in Ivory Coast in 2006.

Last month, Trafigura paid out 33 million euros to Ivorians who had been affected by “flu-like” symptoms following the dumping of the waste around the country’s capital Abidjan. The firm continues to deny that the waste caused any fatal or permanent injuries.

'Super-injunctions'

Known as a “super-injunction”, the September ruling by a UK court, granted at Trafigura's request, meant that British media were barred from mentioning the contents of a report into Trafigura-commissioned activities in Ivory Coast – or its very existence.


In this case, it involved omitting the name of the MP – Paul Farrelly – who tabled the question, which government minister was due to answer or why the order was in place.

The Guardian claimed Carter-Ruck had advised its journalists that the newspaper would be in contempt of court if it went ahead and published details of Mr Farrelly’s question.

Letting the cat out of the bag

Mr Farrelly used “parliamentary privilege” – under which British MPs are completely immune from legal action for anything they say in parliament – to raise the issue in front of journalists and parliamentarians, effectively letting the cat out of the bag.

The same day, a large number of Twitter users, outraged by the idea that a newspaper could be banned from publishing an MP’s question in parliament, overwhelmed the popular “micro-blogging" platform Twitter with details of what Mr Farrelly had asked.

By Monday night, the full question had been published on several prominent blogs, flying in the face of the Carter-Ruck injunction.

On Tuesday afternoon, Carter-Ruck withdrew its gagging attempt.

The Guardian's investigative journalist who broke the story, David Leigh, told FRANCE 24 that although it was the use of parliamentary privilege which forced the story into the open, the fact that the issue had made so much ground on the Internet showed that the media landscape was changing rapidly.

“It’s very unrealistic trying to keep something like this secret in the age of the Internet,” Leigh said.

Freedom to report

Mr Farrelly’s question, which was published across the British media on Wednesday, was addressed to Justice Secretary Jack Straw.

It asked: “What assessment has he [Straw] made of the effectiveness of legislation to protect (a) whistleblowers and (b) press freedom following the injunctions obtained in the High Court by (i) Barclays and Freshfields solicitors on 19 March 2009 on the publication of internal Barclays reports documenting alleged tax avoidance schemes and (ii) Trafigura and Carter Ruck solicitors on 11 September 2009 on the publication of the Minton report on the alleged dumping of toxic waste in the Ivory Coast, commissioned by Trafigura."

The issue has exposed profound misgivings in the UK over the effect of “super-injunctions” on freedom of the press.

These injunctions can forbid media within the court’s jurisdiction from reporting that the injunctions have even been made.

'Arrogant effrontery'

“It is scandalous that a law firm acting on behalf of a wealthy trading company should have thought, for a moment, that it could gag media organisations from reporting parliamentary business,” wrote the newspaper’s editor Alan Rusbridger.

“These are lawyers who seem to have lost sight of the fact that people risked their liberty and their lives for the right to report what their elected representatives say and do. It is little wonder that some social media websites went into virtual meltdown at the arrogant effrontery involved.”
 

Date created : 2009-10-14

COMMENT(S)