Victory! Carter Ruck Caves In

(Press Gazette) – THE GUARDIAN has overturned an extraordinary injunction which banned it from reporting a question tabled by an MP in Parliament.

The paper revealed on its front page today that it had been banned from reporting the question due to: ‘Legal obstacles, which cannot be identified, involving proceedings, which cannot be mentioned, on behalf of a client who must remain secret.’

The report prompted a revolt on the social networking site Twitter where many users pointed out that the injunction had been brought by oil traders Trafigura.

Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger ‘tweeted’ today: ‘Victory! Carter Ruck caves-in. No Guardian court hearing. Media can now report Paul Farrelly’s PQ about Trafigura.

‘Thanks to Twitter/all tweeters for fantastic support over past 16 hours! Great victory for free speech.’

The Parliamentary question which Trafigura tried to stop the media reporting, via lawyers Carter Ruck, was tabled by Labour MP Farrelly to justice secretary Jack Straw.

He asks Straw: ‘… 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.’

In the same way that last night’s injunction was widely flouted online, the Minton report is also easy to find online using a search engine.

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Guardian Gagged From Reporting Parliament

(Press Gazette) – THE GUARDIAN was yesterday apparently hit with a wide-ranging injunction which forbids it from reporting a question from an MP to a minister published in a House of Commons order paper yesterday.

MPs have absolute privilege with regards to statements in the House of Commons, and media reports of Parliament have qualified privilege which provides a defence against libel actions.

According to the Guardian’s veteran investigative reporter David Leigh, it is the first time in memory that the paper has been prevented from reporting Parliament.

He writes today: ‘Legal obstacles, which cannot be identified, involve proceedings, which cannot be mentioned, on behalf of a client, who must remain secret.’

The only hint the Guardian gives as to who is behind the action is the identification of the lawyers Carter Ruck, who it says specialise in suing the media for individuals or global corporations.

Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger said: ‘The media laws in this country increasingly place newspapers in a Kafkaesque world in which we cannot tell the public anything about information which is being suppressed, nor the proceedings which suppress it. It is doubly menacing when those restraints include the reporting of parliament itself.’

Such wide-ranging gagging orders are usually only used in privacy or breach of confidence cases.

In March this year The Guardian was injuncted by Barclays Bank after publishing seven documents relating to tax avoidance services offered by the bank and banned by a High Court judge from publishing them.

Press Gazette has no information about the details of The Guardian injunction; but notes that among the questions tabled in Commons order papers yesterday was one by Paul Farrelly MP: ‘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.’

Press Gazette has, at the time of writing, not received any notification as to whether or not it too is to be barred from reporting on any of yesterday’s proceedings in the House of Commons.

… (13/10/2009) – Victory! Carter Ruck Caves In

Corruption In Public Bodies Could Prosper Without Scrutiny From Local Media

(Press Gazette) – THE GUARDIAN EDITOR, Alan Rusbridger, reiterated his call for public funding in regional media last night, throwing his weight behind a Press Association (PA) plan to replace dwindling local coverage of public bodies and courts with a dedicated reporting service.

The infrastructure of the local and regional press was facing collapse through a ‘deadly combination’ of recession, new technology, and steep revenue decline, he said.

Speaking at the Media Standards Trust’s Why Journalism Matters event, in London, Rusbridger said the industry would have to accept the need for publicly subsidised news reporting.

Rusbridger welcomed moves by the PA to introduce a pilot scheme later in the year to provide coverage of public institutions for free.

Despite a number of non-news websites beginning to fulfil some journalistic functions, Rusbridger told guests at the Royal Academy of his concerns about the disappearance of local reporting, that corruption would prosper without the scrutiny of powerful media organisations.

Rusbridger said: ‘This bit of journalism is going to have to be done by someone, bloggers can’t do it, they have other jobs to do… it makes me worry about courts and public authorities that in future could operate without any systematic public scrutiny.

‘I don’t think our legislators have begun to wake up to this imminent problem as we face the collapse of the infrastructure of local news.’

Rusbridger said local newspapers were a public utility ‘as integral’ as others and the industry needed to face the fact there was an urgent need for a subsidy to fund some form of public service reporting.

He said: ‘The question that everybody is beginning to grapple with is that if the market place in this country can’t provide these public goods, what form of funding could be considered in order to provide them.’

While some figures in the media shirked at any mention of public subsidy, he added, the ‘wolf was getting nearer the door.’

He dismissed the idea the BBC could fill this role as a ‘non-starter’ because of the ‘monopolisation’ backlash, saying in return for a subsidy the PA, which is owned by a consortia of UK media businesses including Guardian Media Group, could be contracted to report on local public bodies.

Content could then be provided to news providers allowing them to remain independent to campaign and challenge local MPs and other public figures.

The PA’s managing director, Tony Watson, told a committee of MPs looking into the future of the regional press earlier this month the agency was establishing a ‘public service reporting’ pilot project in North West England where a team of six journalists would provide stories that would then be given away free to local media outlets.

Rusbridger said: ‘The advantage of the PA doing it is that it takes away the monopoly of the BBC. The need is there. The question is, is the will or the sense of urgency.’

… (Ted Pugh, 14/04/2009) – Recession’s Threat To Democracy

… (Ted Pugh, 24/07/2009) – Rusbridger And ‘Why Journalism Matters’

… (London Evening Standard, 27/07/2009) – The propaganda newspapers

… (31/07/2009) – BBC To Extend Local News Services

… (04/08/2009) – ‘Newspapers Need Government Help To Survive’