Last night at about 20:30, The Guardian brought us the breaking news that it has – for the first time – been legally prevented from reporting proceedings in parliament, in the form of a question that is to be asked later this week. The whole article read like a cryptic crossword post: they could tell us that this question would be asked, but not what it was, or who would ask it, or who it would be asked of. Not only that but
The Guardian is also forbidden from telling its readers why the paper is prevented – for the first time in memory – from reporting parliament. Legal obstacles, which cannot be identified, involve proceedings, which cannot be mentioned, on behalf of a client who must remain secret.
All The Guardian were permitted to tell us was that the injunction against them involved Carter-Ruck: solicitors specialising in suing the media for global clients.
The internet was agog. Someone had gagged The Guardian.
Whoever it was (and we think we know), I don’t think they thought it through. To quote John Gilmore: “The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it”. The Guardian piece was rapidly disseminated across the internet (I followed the story on twitter, though I imagine the same was happening through other avenues) and immediately bloggers, tweeters and the like leapt on it. It seems whoever filed the injunction failed to realise the obvious about human nature: that the best way to get people to talk about something is to ban them from talking about it.
Two blogging ‘sceptics’ – @dontgetfooled and lawyer @jackofkent seem to have got there first, digging up the following from Parliament.uk, “Questions for Oral or Written Answer beginning on Tuesday 13 October 2009″
61 N 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.
You may also be interested to read about how, back in September, The Guardian collaborated with BBC’s Newsnight in investigating the possibility of Trafigura (the world’s third largest oil company) dumping toxic waste and covering it up. The company coincidentally seemed to employ similar tactics then to what’s happening right now:
Most concerned had received legal threats from Trafigura, which had reduced mainstream media coverage elsewhere to little more than a whisper.
From which you may draw your own conclusions. This Thursday, a flashmob is planned outside Carter-Ruck in protest.
I’m posting this in support of freedom of speech and freedom of the press. They may be able to stop The Guardian talking, but they can’t stop everyone. You can follow the backlash on twitter using the hashtags #Carterruck and #Trafigura.
Do re-blog this, re-hash this, re-post this, re-tweet this.
UPDATE: Breaking news (14:55) . Alan Rusbridger (Ed. Guardian) confirms that Carter-Ruck have caved under pressure and lifted the injunction:
Thx to Twitter/all tweeters for fantastic support over past 16 hours! Great victory for free speech.