Update: Talking of super-injunctions, The Guardian’s Alan Rusbridger takes us through the Trafigura document, clause by press-gagging clause…
Trying to talk about about super-injunctions, press freedom and PR this week feels like walking into an overcrowded lift and attempting to make yourself heard above a dozen, City hedge fund traders who’ve just made a few million quid.
You can’t move for the acres of copy filling paper and digital pages about super-injunctions – the meaning of which, just over a week ago, was unknown outside the offices of lawyers, Carter-Ruck, and remains unclarified today on Wikipedia.
The background, in short – and with the help of the New Law Journal – is: “Law firm Carter-Ruck, representing oil trading firm Trafigura, had insisted that an injunction obtained against the Guardian prevented it from reporting a question tabled by Paul Farrelly MP. However, details of the question were posted on the social networking site Twitter, leading Carter-Ruck to withdraw its gagging attempt.”
Guardian editor, Alan Rusbridger, celebrated the victory for free speech in his editorial late last week, with no faint praise for the role of Twitter and the blogosphere in helping the reversal of the court order, which threatened to trounce the media’s unassailable privilege of reporting what’s said in the UK Parliament.
Unsurprisingly, the Guardian is working overtime on this story, with pieces from Emily Bell, Index on Censorship boss, John Kampfner, and acerbic wit from Charlie Brooker, who describes Trafigura’s corporate PR as “about as effective as appearing on the GMTV sofa to carve your brand name on the face of a live baby”. The Daily Mash is also revelling in the absurdity of it all.
But one of the more serious issues emerging is the one highlighted by Kampfner, who notes the powers of the Human Rights Act being abused by companies to achieve privacy (for that, read secrecy) originally intended for members of the public.
Learning the laws of libel and slander is a mainstay of journalism courses (I did it myself – the law paper we dubbed the “Mother of all exams”). But Kampfner’s point is that the legal imbalance between investigative journalism and the right not to be defamed has made English law “the enemy of free expression”.
Co-incidentally, the latest changes to the Press Complaints Commission’s Editors’ Code of Practice are said to swing power in favour of the PR profession at the expense of journalists. But Porter Novelli director of media Laurence Lee is quoted in PR Week’s piece as saying: “There will be plenty of PR people who would welcome greater restrictions on journalistic practices…PR people rely on a free press as much as anyone else so it’s no good saying journalists are the enemy.”
Ironically, this is nothing new. Describing his trips to London’s law courts while editor of The Sunday Times, the great Harold Evans, writes in his book “Good Times, Bad Times” – now 26 years old: “I went before the judges because Government or corporations or individuals tried to find reasons in law for preventing The Sunday Times printing what it knew to be true…it was not abstract or remote power, but the power that is capable of building an airliner knowing it will fall out of the skies, or of cheating small savers…or selling a deforming drug and refusing to compensate reasonably for the shattered lives…”
Evans’ words should remain humbling, today, for anyone setting out to trample on the truth. The Guardian’s victory in the Trafigura case – with the help of “the people” empowered by social media – suggests there is a still a premium placed on that abstract noun, truth.
Jon Clements is a Chartered PR consultant specialising in B2B PR, corporate and marketing communications and is the founder of Metamorphic PR.