Trafigura coverage still curtailed by libel abuse. UK media unable to report freely on deaths allegedly caused by dumping of Trafigura’s toxic waste
*Update* See also: Doc Richard – Trafigura suppresses scientific lecture – allegedly
*Update 2* Rebellion spreads – Caroline Lucas MEP mentions the unmentionable.
There’s renewed coverage today of the ongoing legal battles following the notorious Ivory Coast toxic waste incident, in which the oil trader Trafigura has been implicated.
The Guardian (UK), Times (UK) and New York Times (US) all report that the £30 million compensation payment by Trafigura to victims of the disaster is in danger of being misappropriated after an Ivorian court ordered that the funds be frozen.
But note also the contrast in how the UK and US media have reported the background to the story. Here’s how the New York Times covers it:
The waste was shipped by Trafigura, an international commodities trading giant. About 108,000 people sought treatment for nausea, headaches, vomiting and abdominal pains, and at least 15 died. All had apparently been poisoned by the toxic brew of gasoline and caustic soda, refining byproducts dumped by Trafigura’s contractor.
Here’s the Guardian:
Hundreds of tonnes of sulphur-contaminated toxic oil waste were cheaply dumped on landfills and in ditches around Abidjan in 2006. The cargo ship had been chartered by Trafigura. In the weeks after, the fumes caused thousands of sick people to besiege local hospitals.
…and here’s the Times:
A cargo ship chartered by Trafigura dumped hundreds of tonnes of sulphur-contaminated toxic oil waste around Abidjan in 2006. In the following weeks the fumes caused thousands of people to need hospital treatment.
The deaths of “up to 17″ Ivorians has been widely reported elsewhere. In previous articles, both the Times and the Guardian have referred to a UN report citing “official estimates” of 15 dead. So it seems odd that this seemingly crucial detail should now be omitted.
The New York Times is of course free to say what it likes because freedom of speech is protected under the US constitution, and New York State has a law which specifically prohibits the enforcement of UK libel judgements in NY, due to human rights concerns.
Fortunately in the UK we do still have (despite some recent confusion) an absolute right to report the proceedings of Parliament, so I can draw your attention to this recent statement from Evan Harris MP:
My understanding is that “Newsnight” is being threatened by the lawyers for Trafigura, Carter-Ruck, if it repeats an allegation… that deaths were caused by the dumping of toxic waste in Ivory Coast, even though in 2007 Hansard reported the Transfrontier Shipment of Waste Regulations laid by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs before Parliament, and a memorandum of explanation to those regulations stated:
“The recent example of the release of toxic waste in the Ivory Coast leading to the deaths of a number of people and the hospitalisation of thousands underlines the risks involved in the movement and management of waste.”
How can it be that that can be in Hansard, yet there are still threats of legal action against “Newsnight” if it reports the very same wording that is used in there? That cannot be right.
What Dr. Harris could also have mentioned is that, astoundingly, alongside these renewed threats, Trafigura’s libel action over this damning May 2009 news report, appears still to be ongoing.