Thursday, 8 December 2011

Trafigura: Enforcing the Truth Gap


This is a little diversion albeit an important one.  On his excellent blog Richard Wilson posts – under Parliamentary Privilege – an extract from the testimony of Alan Rusbridger of the Guardian to the Culture Media and Sports Committee which Rusbridger describes the pressure put on the Guardian by both Carter-Ruck and Bell Pottinger.

This is not new information – there is little new information unfortunately - but it is extremely relevant because of the current revelations about Bell-Pottinger.

Thanks Richard!

Please read Richard’s post.


Using exactly the same Parliamentary Privilege I append a different part of Rusbridger’s evidence to the Culture Media and Sports Committee.

‘Along with others of the European media and the BBC, we have recently been subject to what we regard as a prolonged campaign of legal harassment by Carter-Ruck on behalf of London-based oil traders, Trafigura.

Trafigura arranged the illegal dumping of 500 tons of highly toxic oil waste in the West African country of Cote d'Ivoire. Thousands of the population of Abidjan, the capital, subsequently became ill and, after a bitterly fought law suit, Trafigura has now been forced to pay a degree of compensation to the victims.

Carter-Ruck, like such other firms as Schillings, are trying to carve out for themselves a slice of the lucrative market known as 'reputation management'. This is not about the perfectly proper job of helping people or organisations gain legal redress when they have been mistreated by the press.

It is a pitch to work with PR firms to pressurize and intimidate journalists in advance on behalf of big business. It exploits the oppressive nature and the frightening expense of British libel laws.

Carter-Ruck's boasts on their website are appended [APPENDIX 1].

After the toxic waste dumping in 2006, Trafigura embarked on what was essentially a cover story. They used Carter-Ruck and PR specialists Bell Pottinger, working in concert to enforce their version on the media.

The cover story was that Trafigura used a tanker for normal 'floating storage' of gasoline. They had then, they claimed, discharged the routine tank-washing 'slops', which were harmless, to a disposal company, and had no responsibility whatever for the subsequent disaster.

In fact, Trafigura had deliberately used a primitive chemical process to make cheap contaminated gasoline more saleable, and knew the resultant toxic waste was impossible to dispose of legally in Europe.

The Guardian experienced an intimidatory approach repeatedly in the Trafigura case. Other journalists at BBC Newsnight, the Norwegian state broadcaster NRK and the Dutch newspaper Volkskrant, told us of identical threats. The BBC eventually received a libel writ. NRK were the subject of a formal complaint - eventually rejected - to the Norwegian press ethics body.


Many are certain, as is Rusbridger, of the truth of the Trafigura saga.  They  saw the truth gap and, I assume, saw no way to bridge that beyond the view expressed by Rusbridger.  I understand why this view is held and why that view remains dominant and will do so until Trafigura fill in the gap with truth.

I posted about Rusbridger’s evidence in March 2010 and I close with the last sentence of that post.

Legal action, or the threat of legal action, does not turn untruth into truth or, for that matter, truth into untruth.



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