I smell a rat

Nothing about unemployment this time! The twitterverse has been busy this week campaigning against the outrageous gagging order taken out by¬† Carter Ruck against the Guardian in an attempt to prevent it reporting on a parliamentary question. Outrageous in fact at two levels: first that reporting from parliament is covered by privilege and judges are not supposed to interfere; and second that the question in question, if you’re still following me, was about the appalling discharge of toxic waste off the Ivory Coast in 2006.

Which is where the smell comes in. The toxic chemicals involved (details here) are notoriously smelly and can damage lungs at minuscule concentrations. Physical contact produces terrible scarring and painful ulceration, sometimes permanent, and often kills.

Not surprising therefore that the perpetrators’ solicitors should be instructed to attempt to keep the whole thing quiet. What is less understandable is that our legal system should conspire (and I use the term advisedly) to assist them in their endeavours. The extraordinary outburst of anger and outrage that erupted on Twitter seems to have ensured that the attempt to take the injunction to court in order to defend it against the Guardian’s objections was abandoned at the last minute. And of course everyone on Twitter who was involved was jubilant and waxed eloquent about the cyber-power of outraged citizenry.

I’ve no wish to sound churlish, and @BillyNoJob did his bit in the campaign. But it does occur to me that Twitter is useful in organising concerned people around the flagpole of freedom of expression, but not so good at dealing with the substantive issues which underlie that freedom. We seem to be able to win back our right to know about things, but we’re no nearer winning the right to do anything about what we know. Most of the twitterverse, after it had congratulated itself on a job well done, went back to really important things like “Google Wave” and “Paranormal Activity”. The #trafigura¬†tag dropped out of trending tweets like a stone. Bet they were relieved.

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