Thursday, 17 December 2009

Trafigura victory fuels libel reform calls

A victory for Carter-Ruck and Trafigura in the High Court as the BBC have offered this statement in open court with regard to Newsnight's reporting of the dumping of toxic waste by Trafigura off the Ivory Coast.

That Trafigura illegally dumped 500 tons of hazardous waste in Abidjan in 2006, leading to a public health emergency where many thousands of people sought treatment, is not in dispute.

Trafigura has paid $200 million to the government of the Ivory Coast and settled in London for £30 million a joint action made by 31,000 Ivorians.

Trafigura has insisted on the BBC accepting that the toxic waste dumped by the Probo Koala did not cause deaths, serious or long-term injuries, and withdrawing Newsnight's report alleging that it did so. Trafigura's victory today is that the BBC has agreed to do so.

Carter-Ruck told the court in the agreed statement that the multi-million pound compensation settlement involved a joint statement between Trafigura and those affected which "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". The BBC now also accept this and withdraw their report to the contrary.

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."

Does this not raise the question as to whether Trafigura or Carter-Ruck might not also want to attempt legal proceedings against the UN Special Rapporteur directly, rather than only taking action against media organisations attempting to report on the controversy caused by the dumping incident?

Critics have described this as creating an atmosphere of "libel chill" against legitimate public scrutiny.

The BBC's concession has already fuelled calls for libel reform, as Left Foot Forward report.

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.

They believe that costs were a major factor behind the BBC's decision. They cite the leading media lawyer, Mark Stephens of FSI, the cost of such a case would have been in excess of £3 million.

John Kampfner, CEO of Index on Censorship said today:

“Sadly, the BBC has once again buckled in the face of authority or wealthy corporate interests. It has cut a secret deal. This is a black day for British journalism and once more strengthens our resolve to reform our unjust libel laws.”

Carter-Ruck will no doubt differ - and may well consider their defence of Trafigura's public reputation to have been another resounding success.

8000 people have signed the petition for libel reform bill at


Robert said...

It is right as well they did not dump it here which is great news, I think the BBC has to learn that while we are now in a New labour world we must tug the old cap when passing your boss if he says hello fall to the floor and kiss his boots if not his ass, we must do anything and every thing possible not to anoy employers even dirty scum like this.

13eastie said...

Why, with all the resources it has, does the BBC show such ineptitude?

Arguably £3m to fight the case is not a good use of the licence fee.

If this is the reason behind the Beeb's capitulation, then why did it act so irresponsibly in the first place to broadcast as fact what we must conclude (given its own admission of its allegations being unsupported) was simply speculation.

Speculation which it must have realised could have had only a hugely damaging effect on shareholder value.

The situation in which the BBC now finds itself is not a product of "bad" libel laws. It the predictable outcome of shoddy journalism.

The BBC continues to appear awfully confused about its duties: they are not to form public opinion; they are to inform it.

Without prejudice. (NB the terribly slanted and selective reporting of Climategate and COP15).

Trafigura's behaviour is abhorrent to many (including me). But the BBC's licence payers simply deserve better reporting than this.

The Beeb needs to heed the wake-up call: it should look more to its own values and less to trying to change ours.

What a pity that, consequent on the disgusting pollution that no-one has disputed took place, BBC viewers are now left to wonder whether the African people affected have been terribly wronged and then "Carter-Fucked", or they have simply been "on the make".