In May, Newsnight exposed the scandal of multinational corporation Trafigura's toxic waste dumping on the Ivory Coast;
It is the biggest toxic dumping scandal of the 21st century, the type of environmental vandalism that international treaties are supposed to prevent. Now Newsnight can reveal the truth about the waste that was illegally tipped on Ivory Coast's biggest city, Abidjan. A giant multinational is being sued in London's High Court by thousands of Africans who claim they were injured as a result.
Now, however, Trafigura has managed to gag the BBC with legal threats, and the dispatch has disappeared from Newsnight's website. As George Monbiot has written, this scandal is "unremarkable" as it is "just another instance of the rich world’s global fly-tipping." He's right, and I have written previously about how the Somali pirates came into being in response to the fact that "European and Asian companies are dumping toxic waste, including nuclear waste, off the Somali coastline."
However, the Trafigura case promises to set an important precedent. The decisive military response to the Somali pirates shows how unreceptive powerful states are to third-world people's defending themselves against such crime. If Trafigura are able to censor all criticism of their actions through the threat of legal action, then the ability to challenge such crimes without recourse to piracy is also drastically reduced.
But now, Richard Wilson offers a way in which ordinary bloggers can challenge this corporate censorship;
Not only for the sake of free speech and open debate, but also as part of the fightback against the ihnerent criminality of corporate capitalism, it is vital that we do not bow to Trafigura's gag.
Late last week the BBC chose to delete from its website a damning Newsnight investigation into the Trafigura scandal, following legal threats from the company and its controversial lawyers, Carter-Ruck.
Previously, other media outlets including the Times and the Independent, had withdrawn stories about the case, amid concerns that the UK press is choosing to engage in self-censorship, rather than risk a confrontation with such a powerful company in the UK’s archaic and one-sided libel courts.
The BBC is a dominant player within the UK media, and its independence – supposedly guaranteed by the millions it receives from licence-payers each year – is vital both to its public service function and its global reputation.
Freedom of speech means very little without an effective and independent media – if it’s true that the BBC’s independence can so easily be compromised by legal threats, then this sets a very dangerous precedent for the future.
The mainstream UK media has so far assiduously avoided reporting on the BBC’s climbdown. Yet it’s an issue that raises serious questions about the state of press freedom in Britain, at a time of unprecedented attacks on the media.
To help subvert this latest attempt to muzzle the press, please embed this video on your blog, and link to this PDF of the original story.
If you have a blog of your own, then please repost the video and PDF there. Twitterers can tweet "Corporate criminals censor BBC: http://bit.ly/5zWsmQ Fight back by spreading video: http://bit.ly/7i0iyV and PDF: http://bit.ly/6Ofz27" to the same effect.