Twitter defeats newspaper gagging order

[Cross-posted from the WITNESS Hub Blog]

Here’s a remarkable video showing a Twitter revolt in action:

It shows how the terms #trafigura, #carterruck, #dumping, #scandal and other Twitter hashtags gathered pace last night and this morning as news of a secret injunction gagging The Guardian newspaper emerged. The paper had intended to report the name of a Member of Parliament who asked a question in Parliament regarding the alleged dumping of toxic waste by oil company Trafigura – but (in a move weirdly reminiscent of the BBC drama State Of Play) The Guardian was banned from publishing the name, or indeed talking about what they were banned from publishing. The injunction was today withdrawn by Carter-Ruck solicitors, after the Twitter revolt you watched above – it’s being heralded as yet another example of Twitter and other online spaces being used to outflank those who would suppress information and obstruct transparency, a phenomenon dubbed the Streisand Effect. The Guardian is now reporting that MP Paul Farrelly asked this question:

“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.”

Why is this question important, and why has Trafigura taken on other media that report on the alleged dumping of toxic waste in the Ivory Coast (pdf)? Watch this edition of Al Jazeera’s People & Power, in which Juliana Ruhfus confronts the scandal head-on:

(Thanks to @cleanyoungbob for tweeting this video. Here’s a Q+A with Juliana about the series Corporations On Trial, of which this film is a part.)

Additonal links:

Here’s the Newsnight story that triggered the legal action I mention above: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/newsnight/8048626.stm

Here’s Padraig Reidy of Index On Censorship: “It cannot be overstated how utterly contrary to democracy this development is. Representative democracy depends on the concept that parliamentarians can speak without fear, and the public can listen to and read what they say, whether sitting in the gallery or through print, broadcast and online media. Democracy, perhaps even more so than justice, must not just be practised: it must be seen to be practised.”

There’s actually a blog that follows the full range of information suppression orders prompted by celebrities, governments, corporations and others: www.thestreisandeffect.com

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