Tweeters expose Trafigura

A great day for freedom of speech but who’s to stop the gagging?

No other social media has come under so much criticism than Twitter. Those who use it have been dubbed self-obsessed twitt-ers that have nothing better to do than talk about their favourite sandwich filling (by the way mine’s tuna and marmite, controversial I know).

That was until the Trafigura affair. The Minton report, commissioned in 2006, claimed that the oil company Trafigura were dumping potentially harmful toxic waste in the Ivory Coast. When the report was leaked to the Guardian, Trafigura’s solicitors Carter-Ruck obtained a super-injunction to gag the media. The tweeters couldn’t be silenced though and implemented freedom of speech with mass key tapping. Tweeters forced Carter-Ruck to give up on attempts to suppress the Minton report. In doing so they successfully subverted the legal process and overturned legislation. This sparked debate over the fairness of the courts when dealing with freedom of the press.

The interesting aspect of this case is the comparison between the angry outburst from tweeters and the relative silence of other forms of media despite the danger super injunctions pose to freedom of the press. The fact that the Press Complaints Committee (PCC), a defender of press freedom, said nothing poses serious questions. Who is protecting the press, the public’s right to know and freedom of speech? The courts, the PCC and traditional forms of media all failed. Will that little blue bird heroically step in and become judge, jury and executioner?

The Trafigura affair has highlighted the exciting power of social media but simultaneously the worrying lack of legal guards the media has to protect their freedom. The courts are outdated and the PCC is too constrained.  It is left to journalists and the media to work with the public to protect freedom of speech.

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An environmental journalist and communications trainer, Bethan specialises in nature conservation and social justice

Posted in Media

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