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OWNI.eu publishes WikiLeaks ebook

The rush to get books in the shops in the wake of the WikiLeaks phenomenon was quite predictable. It’s a story with all the Hollywood mores, but strangely real. The films are soon to follow.

So far we’ve had, most notably, David Leigh’s and Luke Harding’s “WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy” and Daniel Domscheit Berg’s “Inside WikiLeaks”.

Now Paris-based OWNI.eu, which helped build apps for WikiLeaks to allow people to navigate the Iraq war logs and US embassy cables, is publishing Olivier Tesquet’s “WikiLeaks: A True Account” through its own publisher OWNI Books. The organisation boasts an “exceptional vantage point” on the whistleblowing group, and claims that Tesquet’s “thorough investigation” will shed light in the relationship between the WikiLeaks and OWNI.

OWNI Books publishes ebooks only, and this latest one will be the first published in three languages: French, English and Arabic.

Hot on the heels of the OWNI book – and the other behind-the-scenes accounts – will be a more academic take on the affair from Polis director Charlie Beckett and former WikiLeaks journalist James Ball.

The book was announced by Beckett at the Polis Value of Journalism conference on Friday and is expected within the next few months.

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Will sorting out the press help push through libel reform?

April 14th, 2010 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Events, Journalism, Legal

There was a central conflict at last night’s Frontline Club debate addressing English libel and privacy law and super-injunctions.

How do you relax legal mechanisms, while preventing tabloids and privacy-intruding publications reaping the benefits?

Echoing comments made by Mr Justice Eady in a talk at City University London last month, Carter-Ruck senior partner Nigel Tait claimed that super-injunctions were mainly used in celebrity privacy cases, to protect medical records and former lovers’ revelations, for example.

Carter-Ruck, he said, had issued about 12 injunctions in the past year (shockingly, no central record of the number issued exists).

To let up on these would be an invitation to the tabloids, seemed to be the implication.

David Leigh, head of investigations at the Guardian, finally put his finger on it: there is a problem in his own trade, he said, exemplified by the tabloid treatment of the McCanns.

“Unless we put the newspaper houses in order, it’s very difficult to move the debate about libel reform further forward,” he said.
“We’ve got to reform the newspapers.”

As he’s indicated in the past, Leigh believes self regulatory body the Press Complaints Commission to be “a fraud”.

A television producer in the audience added that he’d like to see a press complaints commission “worthy of its name”.

But science writer Dr Simon Singh, still fighting a legal action pursued by the British Chiropractic Association, doesn’t think this conflict needs to be a huge problem.

In fact, making libel law costs cheaper, he said, will allow more people to sue – forcing tabloids to think twice about the things they write about non-celebrities.

I spoke to  Simon Singh afterwards. He said:

“All of the changes we’re talking about do not affect an individual’s right to protect their reputation.”

“Nobody would want to encourage salacious gossip or tittle-tattle,” Singh said. Their reforms address statutory public interest, libel tourism and preventing big companies suing bloggers and individuals.

“If you drive down costs massively, what that means is that not only can celebrities sue to protect their reputation but that the ordinary man and woman in the street can sue to protect their reputations.

“We’re talking about extending justice and fairness to people, rather than making it an exclusive game for the rich and powerful.”

“At the moment a tabloid could defame an individual and perhaps take a risk that person wouldn’t be able to afford to fight back. If you drive down the costs massively, tabloids would actually have to think twice.”

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Super-injunctions and libel reform at the Frontline Club (video)

April 14th, 2010 | No Comments | Posted by in Events, Journalism, Legal

Last night’s debate at the Frontline Club saw Carter-Ruck senior partner Nigel Tait (wearing a ‘Hated by the Guardian’ badge) go head to head with  science writer Simon Singh and the Guardian’s David Leigh.

Also joining them on the panel was David Hooper, a media law specialist and partner at Reynolds Porter Chamberlain and chair Clive Coleman, presenter of Radio 4’s Law in Action (and a former barrister).

Catch up with the debate here:

Highlights included Tait’s version of the Trafigura super-injunction versus Leigh’s; discussion around ‘libel tribunals’ to resolve cases more quickly and more cheaply; and a chance audience encounter between a film-maker who was sued and the very lawyer that sued her.

I spoke to Simon Singh afterwards about the ongoing libel case he’s fighting over a Guardian article published in 2008. Singh is celebrating a victory in the Court of Appeal to defend his article as fair comment, but the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) has not yet dropped its case.

“The case could carry on for another two years; they could go to Supreme Court,” he said. “I’m more than happy to discuss it in a trial, the statements I made in the article.”

“I’m much happier with the position it stands now, as opposed to two weeks ago.”

But he added, he’s annoyed and angry that it’s taken a couple of years and hundreds of thousands of pounds to decide the meaning of a couple of words.

Would he encourage others to stand up as he has? “I think that everyone has to make their own judgement…. You have got to be a little bit unhinged and wealthy to fight these. Most people aren’t that unhinged and aren’t necessarily that wealthy to fight them.”

“Except,” he adds, hesitantly, “the ruling two weeks ago was quite clear, the judges said: ‘we do not want to see scientists being hauled through the libel courts’.”

“My interpretation of their ruling is that the default defence will be one of comment, which immediately gives scientists and researchers a bit more confidence if they go to trial.”

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#FollowJourn: @davidleigh3/investigative reporter

#FollowJourn: David Leigh

Who? Investigations executive editor, the Guardian.

What? Relatively new to Twitter, but he’s seeing its potential fast, with tweets like these: “It appears that carter-ruck have suddenly decided to abandon the fight. no court after all.”

Where? @davidleigh3

Contact? Via the Guardian.

Just as we like to supply you with fresh and innovative tips every day, we’re recommending journalists to follow online too. They might be from any sector of the industry: please send suggestions (you can nominate yourself) to judith or laura at journalism.co.uk; or to @journalismnews.

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Carter-Ruck abandons attempt to gag Guardian on Trafigura question

October 13th, 2009 | 3 Comments | Posted by in Journalism, Legal, Press freedom and ethics

As reported by the Guardian’s editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger (via Twitter), lawyers Carter-Ruck will no longer try to prevent his publication reporting MP Paul Farrelly’s parliamentary question about Trafigura.

Here we are then, taken from the Parliament website, the question … in question:

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200809/cmordbk2/91014o01.htm

61

N 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.

(293006)

via Order Book Part 2.

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The journalist and NGO collaboration to expose Ivory Coast toxic waste dump

October 13th, 2009 | 13 Comments | Posted by in Comment, Legal, Press freedom and ethics

It can now be reported that legal firm Carter-Ruck tried to prevent the Guardian from reporting MP Paul Farrelly’s question about UK oil trader Trafigura in Parliament, but it will no longer pursue its attempt.

Given this news, and that Trafigura and Carter-Ruck are trending topics on Twitter this morning, it seems timely to publish this commentary on events from last month.

[NB: Farrelly's question concerns Trafigura and its solicitors, Carter-Ruck]

“Getting investigative journalists to co-operate is notoriously as difficult as herding cats,” said David Leigh, head of investigations at British newspaper, the Guardian, in a comment piece last month.

But a disregard for secretive journalistic conventions, led to his most recent large exposé: the events surrounding what many call one of the gravest pollution disasters in recent history.

Last month, the Guardian splashed with the story that British oil company Trafigura had offered a £30 million ($49,056,000) payout to 31,000 victims of toxic dumping in West Africa – £1,000 ($1,635) each.

The dumping itself –  400 tonnes of toxic waste in the Ivory Coast by an oil tanker, the Probo Koala, in 2006 – was already public, but less clear was what damage had been caused and whether Trafigura knew of its hazardous effects.

The Guardian reported the £100 million ($163,560,000) legal battle behind what it called a ‘cover-up exercise’ by Trafigura and published emails, allegedly showing that Trafigura ‘was fully aware that its waste dumped in Ivory Coast was so toxic that it was banned in Europe’.

(Trafigura response further detailed below; it denies liability and a cover-up.)

Global silence
Just the day before the Guardian published, Trafigura tried to get a gagging order on Dutch paper Volkskrant and Norwegian TV.

It had already attempted to force the Guardian to delete earlier news articles, and was successful in making the Times of London print a correction. A libel case was launched against the BBC’s flagship news programme, Newsnight.

Collaborative effort
Journalists from the UK, Norway, the Netherlands and Estonia joined with a lawyer from the firm Leigh Day, which had been attempting to sue Trafigura on behalf of 31,000 inhabitants of Abidjan, and the charities Greenpeace and Amnesty International in order to piece the story together.

The emails, which provided the bulk of the evidence, had been collected from various countries with the aid of the NGOs and then shared between the reporters, despite the legal threat looming large.

They decided they should go public when the United Nations published a scheduled report on the Ivory Coast disaster.

But Trafigura nearly put pay to the big scoop: it announced the compensation settlement to the West African victims, even though it continued – and continues – to deny liability.

Regardless, the Guardian and then Newsnight went public.

The links:

Global reaction
Despite the legal risk, allegations and emails were published without relying on Wikileaks. But the whistleblowing organisation did offer its own leaked document and praised the Guardian for its ‘solid work,’ via its Twitter feed (@wikileaks).

Greenpeace, a leading environmental campaigning organization, wants to see Trafigura prosecuted for manslaughter and grievous bodily harm, and cites documents which it says demonstrate the waste’s high toxicity.

In September, Trafigura’s £30-million pay-out was approved in the UK High court. But, as Katy Dowell of theLaywer.com pointed out, it’s not a straightforward victory for the claimants: Trafigura has never accepted liability. The victims only got a third of their overall claim and legal fees are yet to be discussed, she added.

Trafigura still claims that the firm representing the claimants, Leigh Day & Co, ‘had failed to demonstrate any link between the waste deposited and any deaths, miscarriages, still births or other serious injuries’. It also denies any allegations of a ‘cover-up’. In its statement on September 19 it claimed the company which actually dumped the ‘slops’, Compagnie Tommy, did so without authority. The settlement ‘vindicates’ Trafigura, the company claimed.

UK libel laws threat to democracy
It is another example that questions the place of UK libel laws in a functioning democracy. Vital facts about a devastating pollution disaster nearly went completely unreported, as a result of the huge costs involved in going to court.

Campaigning environmental journalist at the Guardian, George Monbiot commented that it’s not surprising that most of the British media wouldn’t touch it with a bargepole: “The reason isn’t hard to divine: Trafigura has been throwing legal threats around like confetti.”

He threw in a frightening thought:

“How many Trafiguras have got away with it by frightening critics away with Britain’s libel laws?

“These iniquitous, outdated laws are a threat to democracy, a threat to society, a threat to the environment and public health. They must be repealed.”

Susan Perry commented on the case for the MinnPost. Originally from the US, she was glad to be leaving the UK:

“It wasn’t only the story itself that stunned me. I was also astonished to hear the BBC journalists describe how the reporting of the story had been essentially suppressed in Europe’s mainstream media until last week. Only by banding together did the BBC and other media outlets dare to go public with the information they’d uncovered.”

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‘Firms like Carter-Ruck have become expert at pressing certain legal buttons,’ says David Leigh

October 13th, 2009 | 5 Comments | Posted by in Legal, Press freedom and ethics

The Guardian could go to court today to challenge a ban by lawyers Carter-Ruck on reporting Parliament, its editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger has reported on Twitter.

Last night, as explained at this link, the Guardian reported that it has been prevented from reporting parliamentary proceedings, specifically a question submitted by an MP.

The Guardian was prevented from identifying the MP who has asked the question, what the question is, which minister might answer it, or where the question is to be found. But bloggers and Twitterers quickly started spreading information about the case and speculating on what the question might be.

Stephen Fry and a silent flashmob organiser are among those to express support via Twitter.

The Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg wrote that he is very interested and ‘concerned’ about the Guardian story. “The @LibDems are planning to take action on this,” he said in a tweet.

“I find it difficult to believe that the courts will try to gag free speech and the reporting of parliament in such a casual way,” the Guardian’s head of investigations, David Leigh, told Journalism.co.uk.

“I’m afraid they do it because firms like Carter-Ruck have become expert at pressing certain legal buttons. The failure of some  judges to understand the nature of the foundations of democracy in this country is the underlying problem.”

Mainstream media outlets, except the Spectator, have yet to report the gag. The First Post today carries a profile of Carter-Ruck’s late founder, Peter Carter-Ruck: ‘The man who invented the London libel industry’.

As noted by InTheNews.co.uk, #trafigura was a top trending topic on Twitter this morning, with Carter-RUCK, #carterruck and Trafigura all trending highly as well.

Last month the Guardian reported how UK firm Trafigura had tried to cover up a ‘pollution disaster’ in the Ivory Coast. Writing for the title, George Monbiot also commented on the paper’s lengthy legal battle with Trafigura.

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Guardian gagged from reporting parliament

October 13th, 2009 | 4 Comments | Posted by in Legal, Press freedom and ethics

Last night the Guardian reported that it has been prevented from reporting parliamentary proceedings ‘on legal grounds which appear to call into question privileges guaranteeing free speech established under the 1688 Bill of Rights’.

“Today’s published Commons order papers contain a question to be answered by a minister later this week. The Guardian is prevented from identifying the MP who has asked the question, what the question is, which minister might answer it, or where the question is to be found.”

Guardian story at this link…

The only information reported:

“The only fact the Guardian can report is that the case involves the London solicitors Carter-Ruck, who specialise in suing the media for clients, who include individuals or global corporations.”

But the Spectator, thought to be the first mainstream title to provide more information, has reproduced what it believes is the question being referred to.

Guido was one of, if not the first, bloggers to speculate which question was being prevented from being reported.

Hashtags #gagcarterruck and #guardiangag have now been introduced into the Twittersphere, with a Silent Flashmob planned to take place outside Carter-Ruck’s offices on Thursday, October 15 at 1pm.

More to follow from Journalism.co.uk.

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Goodbye City University: @amonck reflects on four years as journalism head

July 9th, 2009 | No Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick, Journalism, Training

As reported in May,  Adrian Monck is to leave his position as head of journalism at City University, London after four years, to lead the communications team for the World Economic Forum, which holds the annual meeting for global leaders in Davos, Switzerland. Today, he bids farewell to City in this blog post, originally published here.

Although I’ll be haunting College Building for the next week or so, today is my leaving drinks (or ‘glad you’re gone’ party as we used to call them).

I’ll be keeping up a link with the place as a prof, and I’ll be trying to bash out a PhD. And I’ll also be giving a modest sum for the highest scoring MA project, which will be a prize in memory of Richard Wild. The first £250 will be handed out this autumn, so any City students reading: heads down for the finishing line!

Since I came to City in 2005, we’ve launched an MA in Journalism with new pathways in science and investigation, a Masters in Political Campaigning and Reporting, an MA in Creative Writing Non-Fiction, and a BA in Journalism. We’ve gained some fantastic new staff to go alongside the existing terrific team, including the Guardian’s David Leigh, Channel 4’s David Lloyd, ITN‘s Penny Marshall and visiting fellows like Heather Brooke and tech guru Robin Hamman. We have a distinguished scholar as head of research, Professor Howard Tumber, and we’ve just appointed Britain’s first professor of financial reporting, a chair in honour of Marjorie Deane (expect more on financial journalism soon).

We brought the Centre for Investigative Journalism to City, and its successful summer schools and hopefully there’ll be new initiatives to announce in that area soon.

We’ve established a digital core to our curriculum – there should be a partnership with Nokia coming up in the autumn.

And this year we finally moved into multi-million pound facilities (on Flickr) worthy of the talents of the people who teach and study here. And we have a Graduate School of Journalism to go alongside the best anywhere has to offer.

Best of all, I’ve witnessed the annual progression of an extraordinary group of people who’ve joined us from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, and from Lancashire to Lagos – our students. Their qualities are what make so many people want to give up time to teach here. Their enthusiasms and passions are among the rewards.

It’s not all been plain sailing, as anyone who’s brushed up against me will doubtless agree. But I hope it’s been worth it. City is now, more than ever, a global school for journalism, bringing in people from around the world to share experiences and gain new insights. Its future is already being mapped out in areas like political and humanitarian campaigning, and in deepening specialist knowledge amongst those competing to enter what is still an extraordinarily privileged world.

And the privilege of journalism? It’s the privilege of speech. Maybe it’s narcissistic, maybe it’s worth dying for.

But despite our disagreements (and let’s be honest, academics have to be able to start arguments with themselves) it’s what unites me with colleagues in education, in the news business, and with new friends and acquaintances in the ever-widening world beyond.

So, with whatever voice you choose, keep speaking up.

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