Twitter Triumphed Over Trafigura To Ensure Freedom Of Speech.

I have been thinking about the many ways in which Social Media can inter-twine with modern journalism and I remembered a news story from last year which is a perfect example of the benefits that social media provides.

In 2009, The Guardian found itself subject to a gagging order. The super-injunction was obtained from the courts by Carter Ruck, a legal firm specialising in libel cases. Carter Ruck was representing Trafigura, a major oil-trading company facing allegations that they had dumped toxic waste in the Ivory Coast, allegedly resulting in many deaths.

On 12th October 2009, under the terms of the injunction, The Guardian was banned from reporting a parliamentary question asked by MP Paul Farrelly to Justice Secretary Jack Straw. Mr Farrelly asked Mr. Straw what was being done to protect press freedom after legal firm Carter Ruck had obtained a super-injunction banning the publication of a report into the allegations surrounding Trafigura.

Reporting of parliamentary proceedings is usually subject to Qualified Privilige which means that journalists should be protected from legal action. However, Carter Ruck maintained the injunction would stay in place claiming that The Guardian would be in contempt of court if it reported on Paul Farrelly’s question.  

This is where Twitter came in. Alan Rushbridger, Editor of the Guardian, kick-started an online campaign sparking public outcry about the threat to parliamentary privilege.

Rushbridger knew that while The Guardian could be gagged, twitter couldn’t. He tweeted that his publication had been served a gagging order and banned from reporting an MP’s question.

Within minutes fellow tweeters began trying to crack the code in Rushbridger’s post to uncover who was behind the injunction and why. They searched online for the parliamentary questions and quickly uncovered that the order related to Trafigura. A barrage of tweets referencing The Guardian, Carter Ruck and the super-injunction then followed.

Within hours the most popular search term on Twitter was “Trafigura” and the oil-company was receiving exactly the kind of publicity it was trying to avoid.

By noon the following day Carter Ruck emailed The Guardian agreeing to lift the injunction on the reporting of parliament and the battle for freedom of speech had been won by the internet.

I think this is a fantastic example of how social media affects and empowers modern journalists.

Here are some articles on the issue:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/oct/13/how-trafigura-story-unfolded

http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2009/oct/13/trafigura-tweets-freedowm-of-speech

http://www.politics.co.uk/news/culture-media-and-sport/guardian-gagging-order-sparks-twitter-frenzy-$1333687.htm

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/oct/13/super-injunctions-guardian-carter-ruck

Lisa Toner

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