Carter-Ruck can gag the media, but they can’t silence the online outcry

In less than 24 hours, a story of censorship, injunctions and restrictions on press freedom has come full circle.

The trouble started after the Guardian reported that it had been gagged with a super-injunction preventing them from reporting Parliamentary procedure. The original order also prevented them from informing their readership as to why this was. It was, without doubt, one of the most draconian injunctions seen in living memory.

Within hours of the story breaking, the Twitter-verse ignited with speculation and soon enough, Trafigura became a prominent trending topic, with influential bloggers also getting involved and revealing the very question that Trafigura and more specifically their legal firm, Carter-Ruck were trying to prevent getting into the public domain. In gagging the Guardian, their injunction had backfired. Guido Fawkes and various other blogs had already released the name of the MP tabling the question as well as the full question itself, rendering the original legal proceedings pretty pointless. By lunchtime today, Carter-Ruck had withdrawn legal opposition before Guardian Media were due to challenge them (possibly after realising that they didn’t have a leg to stand on?)

So Carter-Ruck are left as a laughing stock for trying to take on press freedom and failing quite substantially. Several media blogs since the debacle have been pointing to the influence of the blogosphere and Twitter – in my opinion, they’re not wrong. Evidently, a legal firm who specialises in suing the media haven’t quite grasped the fact that it’s a whole different game now. Yes, they can gag an institution. But Twitter is not an institution, or a media group. Neither is the blogosphere. Twitter in particular is a network – and in this case, a network that can quite easily leak the very information that legal firms are trying to surpress. A legal firm throwing their weight around and putting super-injunctions on media firms isn’t going to surpress anything under the network framework – somehow, as today proved, it will get out and the entire surpression attempt will be rendered pointless. In the world of new media, these guys are playing with the big boys and they appear to be losing.

Aside from the obvious foolishness of Carter-Ruck/Trafigura’s actions, they were also potentially in contempt of Parliamentary supremacy. Before the withdrawl of the injunction, the MP whose question was at the centre of all of this, Paul Farrelly, had addressed the Speaker with his concerns about the secret injunction – specifically that it was a direct contempt of Parliament. David Davis also got involved, criticising the rising use of “super-injunctions”. Quite rightly, the House was united: the actions of both the legal firm and the corporation were not only in direct contempt of the Parliamentary process but also freedom of press and legitimate investigative journalism.

Whilst Carter-Ruck/Trafigura have been defeated and freedom of the press reigns, the issue of these kinds of injunctions should remain high on the agenda. To have the threat of a gagging order for legitimately reporting Parliamentary procedure is not only controversial, it is entirely wrong for freedom of press and speech. It’s a gagging order that perverts the legitimate reporting of Parliamentary business for the benefit of a large corporation at the expense of the public right to know.

However, in this case Carter-Ruck realised that they were fighting a losing battle. A trimph for legitimate journalism yes, as well as a historic moment for new media as a whole.

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