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Archive for December 10th, 2009

UK’s dysfunctional libel system strikes again? Newsnight feature on Trafigura disappears from BBC website

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UPDATE – The censored Newsnight feature on Trafigura may have disappeared from the BBC website, but it’s now all over Youtube…

The BBC lawyers may have caved, but you can still defy Trafigura – click here to find out how!

See also: Democracy under attack – Carter-Ruck persuades Commons Speaker that courts *can* ban the reporting of Parliament

In May, the BBC ran a feature on the oil company Trafigura, alleging “dirty tricks” over the dumping of toxic waste in the ivory coast. Shortly afterwards, Trafigura announced that they were sueing the BBC for libel.

The case has received very little media attention – a sign, perhaps, of the ongoing chill that Trafigura is managing to cast over the UK media – but it was mentioned again in this Guardian piece last month.

Until very recently, the Newsnight feature was freely available on the BBC’s website – but now it seems to have disappeared. It’s currently still available via Google cache, which indicates that it was on the site as late as lunchtime yesterday. Could of course just be a technical problem but it does look somewhat odd…

UPDATE 11/12/09 – The story has now been missing from the website for more than 24 hours – it’s starting to look more and more likely that  the piece has been spiked, and that the BBC – that most British of institutions – may now have become the latest victim of our country’s “rogue state” libel laws. In an ironic twist, it seems that the BBC’s lawyers chose international Human Rights Day as the moment to cave in to this attack on freedom of expression.

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Written by Richard Wilson

December 10, 2009 at 3:37 pm

Posted in Censorship

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Libel reform campaign launches in Parliament

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Time to reign in the rogue libel outfits?

I was gutted to be missing this event due to ongoing winter lurgee – but delighted to see that Malcolm Grant, provost of my old college UCL, was the first university head to sign up to the campaign:

From Times Higher Education

A university leader has thrown his weight behind a campaign to reform England’s libel laws amid growing concern about so-called “libel tourism” and its impact on academia.

Malcolm Grant, provost of University College London and a trained lawyer, told Times Higher Education that the current laws were having an impact beyond Fleet Street and were stifling scientific debate and academic freedom.

“It is fundamental and critically important that the threat of libel law be lifted from scientific dispute,” he said, describing it as “quite chilling” that the laws were being used to threaten scholars with heavy financial penalties for making simple points about science.

Professor Grant is joining representatives from science, journalism, publishing and the literary sector this week to launch a new petition for libel-law reform, organised by the charity Sense About Science, the free-speech organisation Index on Censorship and English PEN, which represents authors.

He said: “There are not many vice-chancellors who are lawyers, and I am heading up a very strong science university, so I think it is important to be involved.”

The petition calls for “major reforms” of the English libel laws, saying they “inhibit debate” and “stifle free expression”.

Written by Richard Wilson

December 10, 2009 at 10:52 am

Posted in Censorship

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