Tweeters beware: Carter-Ruck’s oil-fuelled attack on press freedom is defeated, for now – but they’ll be back
Trafigura’s cack-handed law firm Carter Ruck have now backed down from their extraordinary attempt to prevent the media from reporting the proceedings of the UK Parliament. It seems that the outrage generated on Twitter last night (which I had a hand in starting) may have had something to do with it. Gone are the days when it was possible to prevent information from becoming public simply by sending a stern legal letter to all the major newspapers and broadcasters. It’s far harder now to control the flow of information across the vast – and increasingly global – network of thousands of individual bloggers and “tweeters” who make up the internet.
In my more optimistic moments I’m hopeful that the net may ultimately help to stamp out the kinds of legal abuses that have kept dodgy libel firms in business for so long. But I think we also need to be cautious.
It seems to me that at the moment we have a massive opportunity to defend and advance freedom of speech, but this is in large part because the corporate law firms and PR hustlers haven’t yet figured out how to deal with the internet – and as time goes on they may get much better at it. They will also be lobbying vociferously – just as the music industry has already done – for governments to pass new laws (and amend old ones) to make it easier for companies to get sensitive websites blocked, and prosecute individuals who damage their interests online. I suspect that in the coming years this will become a major political battle-ground, and something for all democratically-minded people to keep a close eye on.
For as long as there’s someone, somewhere, with a lot of money to spend on stopping information from reaching the public, there will be law firms and PR companies with a strong incentive to find ways to help them do it. Carter Ruck may have been beaten today, but sooner or later they and their kind will be back.