Guardian claims victory after Trafigura Twitter frenzy
By Ian Dunt and Alex Stevenson
The Guardian has claimed a “great victory for free speech” after an attempt to gag it reporting on a parliamentary question was abandoned.
Legal firm Carter Ruck, which had obtained an injunction barring the Guardian from reporting proceedings on behalf of energy and mining firm Trafigura, abandoned its claim that reporting parliament would have been a contempt of court.
The injunction prevented the newspaper from reporting a question from Paul Farrelly to justice secretary Jack Straw published in today’s House of Commons order paper.
The full text of the question, which politics.co.uk among others including press gazette until now could only speculate was the subject of the gagging order is:
“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.”
Trafigura was hit by negative headlines in the summer after it settled a case involving the dumping of toxic waste in the Ivory Coast. Media outlets including politics.co.uk had been unable to report on the story up until then due to persistent threats from Carter Ruck.
The case has prompted an unprecedented surge in comment on the company on Twitter, with #trafigura and #carterruck becoming the most popular topics on the social media site.
The Guardian’s editor, Alan Rusbridger, had said while the injunction remained in place that media laws in Britain placed newspapers “in a Kafkaesque world in which we cannot tell the public anything about information which is being suppressed, nor the proceedings which suppress it”.
He added: “It is doubly menacing when those restraints include the reporting of parliament itself.”
The Guardian had been due to appear before the high court at 14:00 BST before Carter-Ruck gave up its claims.
“Victory! #CarterRuck caves-in,” Mr Rusbridger tweeted.
He added: “Thanks to Twitter/all tweeters for fantastic support over past 16 hours! Great victory for free speech.”
In scenes reminiscent of the #welovethenhs campaign, Twitter had been swamped by comments on Trafigura, with hundred of new posts a minute.
Many tweets called on MPs to make statements today calling for press freedom in parliament.
Lib Dem MP Jo Swinson wrote: “appalled by this #trafigura stuff what is the country coming to when the papers can’t report Parliament?”
Her party leader, Nick Clegg, suggested he intended to do something about the situation today.
“Very interested concerned about this #trafigura / Guardian story the @LibDems are planning to take action on this,” he tweeted today.
Users also began to organise protests against the company, with one planned against Carter Ruck’s headquarters in Farringdon for Thursday afternoon.
Reporting of procedures in parliament is typically subject to qualified privilege, granting journalists a high level of protection against any legal action.