Libel: BBC backs down on Trafigura report

The BBC has today withdrawn claims made on flagship news programme Newsnight that oil-trading company Trafigura caused deaths in the Ivory Coast after toxic waste was dumped there. in a settlement designed to head off a potentially massively expensive libel case, the BBC will make a small donation to charity at Trafigura’s request.

While other sources, including the British government, claimed that Trafigura’s actions had caused deaths in Abidjan, the Ivory Coast’s largest city, Newsnight was unable to independently verify the claim.

Sources at the BBC say the corporation faced up to £3 million in legal costs if it defended the case against Trafigura.

Read BBC court statement here

Index and English Pen to launch libel report

libel report
Launch of the Libel Reform campaign and the English PEN and Index on Censorship “Free Speech Is Not For Sale” report

12 – 2pm, 10th November 09. Light lunch provided.

Free Word Centre, 60 Farringdon Road, EC1R 3GA

Index on Censorship and English PEN fear:
“We’re becoming a global free speech pariah”

“Our libel laws allow people accused of funding terrorism or dumping toxic waste in Africa to silence their critics whilst ‘super-injunctions’ stop the public from even knowing that such allegations exist. We need to reform our libel laws now, and that’s why we’re launching a national campaign to persuade our politicians to do so.”

Jonathan Heawood, Director of English PEN

“If we don’t act we’re at risk of becoming a global pariah. There are US States who view English libel law as so damaging to free speech they have passed laws to effectively block the decisions of English judges. Our report is an important milestone in modernising our antiquated and chilling approach to free expression.”

John Kampfner, the CEO of Index on Censorship

English PEN and Index on Censorship will be publishing their report on English libel law reform, and launching the Libel Reform campaign, at the Free Word Centre on 10 November.

English PEN and Index on Censorship have been looking into these issues in detail for over a year now and it has become increasingly clear that English libel law and the use of ‘super-injunctions’ are having a profoundly negative impact on freedom of expression, both in the UK and abroad. Writers such as Simon Singh, and respected current affairs programme Newsnight, have found themselves facing defamation suits, whilst human rights campaigners are often forced to edit and retract articles in the face of potential libel action.

The Libel Reform campaign will bring together Index on Censorship and English PEN to mount a national campaign with a website launched on 10 November to persuade politicians from all parties of the importance of reforming these unjust laws.

Update: Read the Independent’s interview with Index on Censorship’s John Kampfner here