Guardian gags, Trafigura and Carter-Ruck: Twitter sets its own agenda

Guardian: Gagged

Guardian: Gagged

For those of you who do not know, the Guardian newspaper had been gagged by the solicitors, Carter-Ruck on behalf of their client,the oil trading company, Trafigura from reporting on an upcoming Parliamentary question. Thus far, no one can recall a time when the press have been successfully prevented by a lawyer from reporting on an open parliamentary session. The question was in connection with this report about the dumping of toxic waste in the Ivory Coast by Trafigura.

The Guardian published a story stating that it had been gagged last night (12th October 2009) and I first became aware of this on Twitter a few hours later thanks to this retweet from @secretlondon. Within a few hours of what had happened but I was able to find out the reason behind the gagging order and learn about the illegal dumping of toxic waste. Not bad for 140 characters.

This morning, I logged on to Twitter to find that both “Trafigura” and “Carter-Ruck” were top trenders. However, a similar keyword search on Google News uncovered hardly any activity from mainstream news sources regarding the gagging order. The BBC have published this brief piece on the subject over 24 hours after the story originally broke and several hours after the Twitterverse grabbed hold of it but generally speaking the press are not covering the story.

One could argue that the mainstream media do not regard the story as being of sufficient importance or in the public interest but that seems very unlikely. Preventing the press from reporting on Parliament strikes at the very core of free speech. Also it would surely make for an excellent companion piece to all the MPs expense shenanigans currently doing to rounds on the nation’s newsdesks.

However, I’m not going to speculate as to why this story did not off the ground. That fact is that were it not for Twitter, there is a very good chance that the reach of this story would have been restricted those few people who read the story on the Guardian and the readership of a handful of bloggers who make it their business to find out about these things. As it stands now, people in the US will be waking up from their slumbers, opening up Twitter and asking themselves, “What or who is Trafigura?”.  Thanks to Twitter, an important but under reported news story has gone global.

Of course, one should not over-egg Twitter’s reach. The likelihood is that only a fraction of international Twitter users will pay any attention to the story or see any relevance to themselves. However, I believe we are probably seeing one of the first instances of a social network setting its own agenda rather than reacting to one set by the news media.

If we think back to #mumbai, #iranelection and #g20 and the impact Twitter had in the reporting and coverage of those events, we can understand that Twitter has a role as a news gatherer and instrument for campaigning (#welovethenhs). However, Guardian/Trafigura/Carter-Ruck differs because it is a story that has had new life breathed into it by Twitter. The Mumbai attacks and political demonstrations in Tehran and London were extensively reported, this gagging order is not. In fact, Twitter has gone further by aggregating links to blogs and wikis that help provide the narrative behind the story.

As I’m typing this, news is breaking  that the order has been lifted and the parliamentary questions can now be covered. Justice is

While the Trafigura story goes largely unreported in the media, it continues to trend on Twitter

While the Trafigura story goes largely unreported in the media, it continues to trend on Twitter

served. To what extent Twitter played its part in this in uncertain. However, this episode demonstrates a shifting paradigm of mass media news coverage. In the past, important news stories weren’t so much suppressed as ignored. If a story is regarded as too sensitive or not in a newspaper’s wider commercial interests  then it would not have been covered. Social Networks are changing that.  For sure in a few hours time Twitter will be flooded with Googlewave invites but for a few short hours the Twitterverse told the world about something really important that happened which they probably would never have known about. And that is surely a good thing.

Advertisements

0 Responses to “Guardian gags, Trafigura and Carter-Ruck: Twitter sets its own agenda”



  1. Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s





%d bloggers like this: