The Guardian newspaper in the UK was yesterday gagged from reporting a matter of public record: a Parliamentary question which was made available online by Parliamentary publications.
The question is widely believed to relate to the Trafigura oil “Minton Report”. Specifically, it could be a question by the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme, Paul Farrelly, who asks:
Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under-Lyme) – 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.
Trafigura is a London based oil and commodities trading company. The “Minton Report” is believed to be the name given to the confidential report which had been ordered in 2006 following allegations of toxic waste having been dumped off the coast of Ivory coast, West Africa, which was the subject of a “gagging order” against the Guardian newspaper in September 2009.
This case has raised serious concerns over UK press freedom, not least because Parliamentary questions are a matter of public record, and something about which many feel the public should be made aware in the interests of democracy.
However, those seeking to gag the Guardian newspaper over this issue have likely invited more adverse publicity than might otherwise have resulted. Those looking to cover the Trafigura oil dumping allegations might have stayed ‘off the radar’ of mainstream media, had the Guardian simply been allowed to report the facts involved. In seeking to gag the Guardian, it is highly likely that the full details of this report will be leaked online: where gagging orders are much more difficult to enforce.
Furthermore, the recourse to such an extreme measure as gagging a parliamentary question from press coverage is certain to raise the profile of this issue, and will doubtless lead many to question the motivation behind those who have taken such action.[UPDATE – Cater-Ruck have since dropped any attempt to gag parliamentary questions from being reported, before the appeal by The Guardian (due at 2pm this afternoon) was heard. The original Order, however, remains in place.]
The Parliamentary question was available online at the following link – click here. Ed: 29/10/2013 The historic link has been removed from the parliamentary website, though the issue is referred to here.