Today I reproduce, in full, an article from the Guardian.
If Guardian News & Media were to highlight one investigation over the past year that would sum up our core values of "honesty, cleanness [integrity], courage, fairness, and a sense of duty to the reader and the community", it would have to be our exposure of Trafigura.
The Guardian gained international recognition for its part in bringing to light the behaviour of the firm of offshore oil traders whose cheaply-dumped toxic waste poisoned thousands of Africans. The Guardian saw its initial legal battle to publish escalate into a full-scale constitutional crisis, because the wealthy corporation's lawyers tried to stop the paper reporting proceedings in the British parliament.
Trafigura obtained a superinjunction, banning the Guardian not only from revealing the contents of a leaked scientific report, but also even from disclosing that the company had gone to court to get such an injunction. The Guardian, and ultimately, many politicians and members of the public, saw this as a Kafkaesque assault on free speech, which had to be defeated.
That defeat was ultimately brought about by a combination of old and new tactics. A Labour MP put down a parliamentary question revealing the existence both of the Minton report (the document in question), and of Trafigura's injunction suppressing its contents.
The order paper also named Trafigura's lawyers as the firm of Carter-Ruck. MPs have immunity in such circumstances, thanks to the ancient right of "parliamentary privilege". Trafigura now claimed the Guardian was even banned from reporting what had happened in parliament.
At that point, the Guardian's editor, Alan Rusbridger, made use of the new online world. He posted on Twitter the fact that the Guardian was banned from reporting parliament, for reasons it was unable to disclose. Within hours, thousands of citizen detectives had worked out for themselves what information was on the online parliamentary order paper, and tweets were circulating around the world, giving away the secrets Trafigura had hired expensive lawyers to suppress.
There was a further twist to the story. The Guardian had also embarked on an innovative international co-operation with other broadcasters, newspapers and NGOs, to develop a united front against what had become a blizzard of legal threats and writs from Trafigura.
The full contents of the Minton report, which detailed the highly toxic nature of Trafigura's contaminated waste, were not only in the hands of the Guardian and BBC Newsnight. They were also in the possession of Norwegian broadcasters NRK, the Dutch newspaper Volkskrant, and Greenpeace in Amsterdam. All these bodies were outside the jurisdiction of the UK courts and free to publish, which they went ahead and did. Trafigura was forced to call off its entire legal campaign and the Guardian finally printed the Minton report.
As a result of this battle, we believe the public interest benefited in two ways. First, the facts about a major toxic waste dumping scandal were exposed. Trafigura were influential and well-connected: current Conservative cabinet member Lord Strathclyde was then on the payroll of a subsidiary (he has since resigned).
With annual profits exceeding £270m, the oil traders were also able to hire expensive libel lawyers Carter-Ruck and prominent lobbyists Bell Pottinger. These companies pursued a "reputation management strategy", in which Trafigura claimed their waste-dumping had been routine and harmless, whilst issuing legal threats to critics who argued otherwise. Eventually, however, Trafigura were forced to pay £30m compensation to 30,000 impoverished African inhabitants of Abidjan in the Ivory Coast, in an out-of-court settlement.
Secondly, the Guardian's challenge and the subsequent constitutional uproar over Trafigura's tactics, highlighted a legal scandal – the growing use of superinjunctions to provide rich individuals and corporations with secret gagging orders. An emergency debate in parliament followed. The cross-party media select committee took evidence on this hitherto undocumented phenomenon.
Reform took place when the lord chief justice, Lord Judge issued a public statement banning the improper use of such gags, saying : "The order should only be made if failing to make it would … cause the very damage that the injunction was designed to avoid."
In April 2010, the Guardian's role was internationally recognised when reporter David Leigh was awarded the Daniel Pearl prize by a US foundation, along with partners in BBC Newsnight, NRK Norway, and Volkskrant, Amsterdam.
The award for outstanding international investigative reporting was presented in Geneva, by the Washington-based Center for Public Integrity. The judges said the journalists "exposed how a powerful offshore oil trader tried to cover up the poisoning of 30,000 west Africans".