UPDATE April 25th 2010
The BBC has won a major international award for its Trafigura investigation. All the footage is linked to below, for anyone who wishes to view; meanwhile, of course, although it can be shown outside England, the libel laws are as yet not reformed, so the BBC is still gagged and has handed over to Trafigura a fat sum of our cash (charitable donation) over the televising of the documentary.
The Centre for Public Integrity
ICIJ Names Winners of 2010 Daniel Pearl Awards for Outstanding International Investigative Reporting
WASHINGTON, D.C., April 24, 2010 — A gutsy, collaborative series by four European news outlets about toxic waste dumping in Africa and a surprising exposé by a freelancer on payoffs by U.S. military contractors to the Taliban won the 2010 Daniel Pearl Awards for Outstanding International Investigative Reporting.
The winners were announced tonight at the sixth Global Investigative Journalism Conference in Geneva, Switzerland. The Pearl Awards are presented by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, a project of the Center for Public Integrity in Washington, D.C.
The winners are:
■Kjersti Knudsson and Synnove Bakke, Norwegian Broadcasting Corp.; David Leigh, The Guardian; Meirion Jones and Liz MacKean, BBC Newsnight; Jeroen Trommelen, de Volkskrant (Western Europe), for “Trafigura’s Toxic Waste Dump,” which exposed how a powerful offshore oil trader tried to cover up the poisoning of 30,000 West Africans...
UPDATE Friday 18th December
Yesterday, BBC Newsnight backed down over its Newsnight report on Trafigura, following a High Court hearing of the libel case against it brought by Trafigura, and last night broadcast a (somewhat less than convincingly sincere) apology. Meanwhile, for the moment the information and video removed from the BBC Newsnight site is still freely available via the internet, see post below. What is clear is that this country's libel laws require alteration. Other countries have reported the Trafigura case openly without fear of litigation.
It is worth noting, however, that United Nations Special Rapporteur Prof. Okechukwu Ibeanu had earlier concluded in a report published on 3 September 2009 that:
On the basis of the above considerations and taking into account the immediate impact on public health and the proximity of some of the dumping sites to areas where affected populations reside, the Special Rapporteur considers that there seems to be strong prima facie evidence that the reported deaths and adverse health consequences are related to the dumping of the waste from the Probo Koala.
Is Trafigura now going to take action against the UN Special Rapporteur?
English PEN and Index on Censorship have expressed dismay at the outcome.
Their joint statement says:
We believe this is a case of such high public interest that it was incumbent upon a public sector broadcaster like the BBC to have held their ground in order to test in a Court of law the truth of the BBC’s report or determine whether a vindication of Trafigura was deserved. The deal is neither open nor transparent.
Both believe that costs were the major factor behind the BBC’s decision. They cite the leading media lawyer, Mark Stephens of FSI, that the cost of such a case would have been in excess of £3 million.
The campaign to reform libel law is growing; you can read further, sign the petition, and e-mail your MP:
A growing number of MPs are signing this Early Day Motion:
423 LIBEL LAW REFORM 09.12.2009
That this House notes that human rights activists, scientists, writers and journalists are prevented from publishing, and the public prevented from reading, matters of strong public interest due to the chilling effect of English libel law; further notes that libel actions in England and Wales cost 100 times more than the European average; further notes that the costs of defending a libel case are usually prohibitive and that even successful defendants do not recover their full costs; further notes the report of the United Nations Committee on Human Rights which criticises English libel law for its stifling of free expression globally due to libel tourism whereby foreign complainants bring cases against foreign writers for alleged libel in overseas publications; believes that public interest is endangered by powerful vested interests and corporations being able to intimidate writers into not publishing; recognises the recent report by Index on Censorship and English PEN, Free speech is not for sale andfurther notes the campaign for scientific freedom by Sense About Science; welcomes the formation of the Libel Reform Coalition to campaign for law reform; and calls for a re-casting of the libel laws such that, while individual reputation is protected against malicious or reckless smears, lawful free expression is not chilled and there is a fully effective public interest defence for both scholarship and responsible journalism.
IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE Claim No: HQ09X02050
QUEEN'S BENCH DIVISION
Claim Form Issued 15 May 2009
BRITISH BROADCASTING CORPORATION
STATEMENT IN OPEN COURT
My Lord, the Claimant is the UK subsidiary of the Trafigura Group, whose principal activity is the trading, supply and distribution of petroleum-related products. The Defendant is the BBC.
On 13 May 2009, the BBC's Newsnight programme broadcast an item concerning Trafigura and also published a related article on its website. These reports focused on the discharging in August 2006 by Trafigura of gasoline waste in Abidjan in the Ivory Coast which was subsequently dumped by a local company. The reports stated that Trafigura's actions had caused deaths, miscarriages, serious injuries and sickness with long-term chronic effects.
In September 2009, a joint statement was agreed and issued by Trafigura and the solicitors representing around 30,000 Ivorian claimants who had brought personal injury proceedings in the English High Court. The statement (which was endorsed by Mr Justice MacDuff, the Judge who had been due to hear the trial, as "100% truthful") recorded that the experts instructed in that case had been unable to identify any link between exposure to the slops and the deaths, miscarriages and chronic and long-term injuries alleged.
Following Trafigura's complaint over Newsnight's story, the BBC carried out a detailed further review of the available evidence and of Trafigura's detailed response in its Reply in these proceedings. The BBC accepts the conclusions reached by the experts in the personal injury action and reflected in the Reply. The BBC therefore acknowledges that the evidence does not establish that Trafigura's "slops" caused any deaths, miscarriages or serious or long-term injuries. Accordingly, the BBC has withdrawn those allegations and has agreed to broadcast an appropriate apology on Newsnight, to join in the making of this Statement in Open Court, and to publish the Statement on its website.
My Lord, on behalf of the BBC I accept everything my friend has said. The BBC withdraws the allegation that deaths, miscarriages or serious or long-term injuries were caused by the waste and apologises to Trafigura for having claimed otherwise.
The BBC hopes that by the joining in the making of this Statement it will assist in setting the record straight.
My Lord, it only remains for me to request leave that the record be withdrawn.
Carter-Ruck BBC Litigation Department
On behalf of the Claimant On behalf of the BBC
As the Guardian reported it yesterday:
BBC settles Trafigura libel case
Apology and charity payout over allegations that Trafigura waste caused deaths is accompanied by combative BBC statement
David Leigh guardian.co.uk, Thursday 17 December 2009 13.55 GMT
The BBC today made what it presented as a tactical climbdown in its libel battle with the oil trading company Trafigura.
After negotiations with Trafigura director Eric de Turckheim this week, the broadcaster agreed to apologise for a Newsnight programme, pay £25,000 to charity, and withdraw any allegation that Trafigura's toxic waste dumped in Africa had caused deaths.
But at the same time, the BBC issued a combative statement, pointing out that the dumping of Trafigura's hazardous waste had led to the British-based oil trader being forced to pay out £30m in compensation to victims.
"The BBC has played a leading role in bringing to the public's attention the actions of Trafigura in the illegal dumping of 500 tons of hazardous waste" the statement said. "The dumping caused a public health emergency with tens of thousands of people seeking treatment."
Trafigura had only brought the libel action against a single aspect of Newsnight's reporting, the BBC statement went on: "Experts in the [compensation] case were not able to establish a link between the waste and serious long-term consequences, including deaths."
In a confidential out-of-court settlement earlier this year, an agreed joint statement was issued by Trafigura and lawyers Leigh Day, representing almost 30,000 claimants in the Ivory Coast. It described the consequences of the waste dumping as "low-level" illness, rather than deaths or miscarriages.
This left an earlier Newsnight programme exposed to litigation: Trafigura claimed Newsnight had specifically accused them of causing deaths, and that they were therefore entitled to recover damages under British libel law.
The BBC's decision to settle caused dismay among some journalistic staff today. One commented: "This result is very unfair. It is completely outrageous that Trafigura should never yet have been brought to a court verdict on their own behaviour, but the BBC should have been penalised for trying to report on it."
BBC sources said one factor in the management decision to settle was the fear that Carter-Ruck, Trafigura's libel lawyers, could run up potential bills of as much as £3m if the issue came to a full trial, particularly in the uncertain climate of British libel law. A hearing would have to be conducted before controversial libel judge Mr Justice Eady.
In a court statement before Eady at the High Court this morning, it was agreed that "The BBC accepts the conclusions reached by the experts in the personal injury action [and] acknowledges that the evidence does not establish that Trafigura's 'slops' caused any deaths, miscarriages or serious long-term injuries. Accordingly, the BBC has withdrawn those allegations and has agreed to broadcats an appropriate apology on Newsnight."
The outcome represents a partial success on behalf of Trafigura for Carter-Ruck partner Adam Tudor. Trafigura's attempts to enforce a "super-injunction" against the Guardian, preventing parliamentary reporting, led to political uproar.
A reproving statement from the Lord Chief Justice followed, plus a parliamentary inquiry and the eventual collapse of an attempted ban on publication of the contents of a scientific report disclosing that Trafigura's waste was potentially highly toxic.
De Turckheim issued his own statement this morning, repeating the contentious claim that "The slops were... dumped illegally by an independent company called Compagnie Tommy – a deplorable action which Trafigura did not and could not have foreseen."
Internal emails published by the Guardian show that Trafigura executives were in fact aware of the hazardous nature of their waste, and the need for specialist expensive disposal.
Trafigura is currently facing prosecution in Amsterdam, for allegedly lying about the nature of the waste during an earlier attempt to dispose of it cheaply.
Meanwhile, the campaign to reform this country's libel laws is gathering pace.
BLOGPOST FROM TUESDAY UPDATED WEDNESDAY
Follow the links, read the story, watch the videos...
UPDATE Wednesday 3.30
Guardian runs the story:
UPDATE Wednesday 12.00
Journalism.co.uk has run the story:
UPDATE 7pm Tuesday
NEW STATESMAN BREAKS THE STORY! #WIN
Old link was here
Let's see how many other of the mainstream media do it ...
Brilliant - Get Carter Rucked, or Trafigura, the Movie
The pulled video
Come on Trafigura, Carter-Ruck - it's all over Youtube.
Yes I was a #trafigura Twitterer when you tried to gag the Guardian, but truth will out, one way or another. Gags don't work.
Drop it and stop trying to gag the BBC. You can't gag us all.
Sign the petition, e-mail your MP here:
There is still this page out there, but for how long?
Download the files now!
Great Wiki article on the Trafigura issues
It's all out there in the public domain!