Freedom Of The Press? UK's The Guardian Barred From Reporting On Parliament

from the how-do-you-report-on-being-banned-from-reporting? dept

Over in the UK, the Guardian has apparently been barred from reporting on a certain action in Parliament (Update: read below). But how do you even report on being barred from reporting on a particular subject without reporting on it. Watch the linguistic gymnastics The Guardian goes through:
The Guardian has been prevented from reporting parliamentary proceedings on legal grounds which appear to call into question privileges guaranteeing free speech established under the 1688 Bill of Rights.

Today's published Commons order papers contain a question to be answered by a minister later this week. The Guardian is prevented from identifying the MP who has asked the question, what the question is, which minister might answer it, or where the question is to be found.

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.

The only fact the Guardian can report is that the case involves the London solicitors Carter-Ruck, who specialise in suing the media for clients, who include individuals or global corporations.
Yet another case of chilling effects in the form of lawyers suing over coverage they don't like. Of course, we're not barred from reporting on anything, and checking through some Parliament webpages turns up the following list of questions, including the following:
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.
This certainly implies that The Guardian has been barred due to this original story of how British oil trader Trafigura was offering to pay "historic damages" to 31,000 people injured in the dumping of toxic waste in Africa.

Of course, my guess is that Trafigura and Carter-Ruck are about to learn about The Streisand Effect, and UK politicians are about to get another lesson on why its libel laws need to be fixed. In the meantime, in the absence of all of this, how many people would have heard about this whole Trafigura affair? How many more people are about to become aware of it?

Update: After this story got spread all over the internet (especially on Twitter), it looks like Carter-Ruck backed down. Of course... the end result? Much worse than if they had never tried to gag the newspapers. A lot more people are aware of the story. Why do lawyers still think banning such things will work?
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Filed Under: freedom of the press, gag order, parliament, streisand effect, uk
Companies: carter-ruck, trafigura


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  1. identicon
    Enricosuarve, 13 Oct 2009 @ 6:43am

    Re: Coming to a country near you...

    I wouldn't worry - I'm not sure this sort of gagging order applies to works of fiction

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