Press gag orders in the UK have a deservedly bad reputation, they are some of the worst examples of repression of freedom of speech through draconian legal measures. While one could argue that they may be justified in some cases with regards to human rights and privacy, they are currently being misused to favour polluters in a press scandal that nobody in the UK is supposed to hear about. Yet, we are currently witnessing a great example of the potential of the Internet in allowing people to exercise their rights and bypass a blatantly unfair ruling.
So here is yet another social media person breaking the gag order in the Trafigura toxic waste affair. If you live in the UK, do not have a Twitter account, and have not heard about Trafigura, do not worry, it is because there is currently a secret suppression order in place, this is a court order that forbids the press from talking both about the content of the dispute, but also about the gag itself. Here are the facts of the story from Wikileaks:
The “Minton report” exposes a toxic waste dumping incident which hospitalized thousands. The UK media has been suppressed from referencing the report and its contents since a secret gag order was issued against it on September 11, 2009. The report was commissioned trhough Waterson & Hicks, a UK law firm, possibly to claim client-attorney privilege should it leak. Client and dump is “Trafigura”, a giant multi-national oil and commodity trader. The report assesses a toxic dumping incident involving Trafigura and the Ivory Coast—possibly most culpable mass contamination incident since Bhopal. The UK media is currently unable to mention the URL “http://wikileaks.org/wiki/Minton” or anything else that would direct people towards the report.
An attempt by a member of parliament to subvert the gag order, by mentioning “Minton report”, the date of the secret gag, and “Trafigura” in the House of Commons, lead to an major uproar on October 12 and 13, following an attempt by Trafigura to apply the gag order to parliamentary reporting (see this front page article in the Guardian newspaper).
The parliamentary quote concerned:
- Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under-Lyme) – To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, what assessment he has 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 UK press gag remains in effect. Incredibly, Trafigura’s lawyers, Carter Ruck, are now attempting again to prevent parliamentary debate over the gag, this time by claiming sub-judice.
Readers can help the victims and the press undermine this unconscionable gag order, by spreading the URL “http://wikileaks.org/wiki/Minton“.
Such orders cannot be allowed to go unpunished. Thankfully, Web 2.0 sites like Facebook, Twitter and blogs have been flying the flag for the public interest. Twitter in particularly is growing up, it has become a place where to air affairs that require publicity, such as this one (#trafigura), and the Jan Moir homophobia affair (#janmoir and #thedailymailisgay).
Or perhaps I am just another outraged Guardian reader with a Twitter account. However, there is something palpable taking place online. As Rob Myers said on Twitter just a few minutes ago:
“twitter in the uk has emerged as a kind of political party led by Stephen Fry. a good political party. if you can imagine that.”