Tuesday, 13 October 2009

It's a remarkable achievement...

...to go from being a company known by relatively few people to becoming a symbol of global corporate evil within the space of 24 hours.

It's even more remarkable to do so without having much coverage in the mainstream media.

Today's events surrounding Trafigura and its doomed attempt to gag coverage of its toxic dumping in the Ivory Coast certainly show the ability of the internet/blogs/Twitter to make the running on a story like this, although Alix Mortimer is probably right that this would all have been in vain without political action also being taken. It certainly shows an ability for new media outlets to react in a more flexible way than traditional media, very few of whom took the decision to publish the parliamentary question at the centre of the storm.

Some might believe this demonstrates the inability of corporations to control and censor adverse information about themselves. Certainly, where information is in the public domain or easily accessible, it's stupid and futile for any company or government even to attempt to keep embarrassing information under wraps.

But let's not kid ourselves that this is anything other than a small victory for freedom. We all only found out about the Trafigura toxic dumping only as a result of them taking their blunderbus and aiming it squarely at their own feet by attempting to censor reporting of Parliament. The injunction had been in place for weeks until it was revealed in Paul Farrelly's question.

There are doubtless numerous corporations whose sins we haven't heard of, because they are able to use injunctions and gagging clauses to prevent the public from finding about their crimes and misdemeanours.

The main benefit of this whole affair has been to let sunshine in on the whole panoply of ways in which press freedom is limited in this country. Using injunctions to gag parliamentary reporting is only the most extreme example of the limitations placed upon the press. Whether it's our absurd libel laws, which even restrict legitimate scientific enquiry, or the increasing threat from rules governing breach of confidentiality, the reality is that the UK has some of the most restrictive laws governing freedom of expression and press freedom of any democratic country.

While we should celebrate that Trafigura and Carter-Ruck have been defeated in this instance, it's only a small step in the wider battle for freedom opf expression.

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