So, if you blinked you might have missed it, but BBC Newsnight tonight began its programme with an apology for allegations about oil trader Trafigura that it now retracts. But Newsnight’s original claims were never tested in a court of law: the BBC conceded in the face of Trafigura’s libel action, by agreeing to pay £25,000 to a charity of Trafigura’s choice, broadcast an apology and withdraw the allegations (widely available on Wikileaks.org).That allowed it to back out of a case which could have cost more than £3 million (according to lawyer Mark Stephens).
The Index on Censorship and English PEN are dismayed, they said earlier today:
We believe this is a case of such high public interest that it was incumbent upon a public sector broadcaster like the BBC to have held their ground in order to test in a Court of law the truth of the BBC’s report or determine whether a vindication of Trafigura was deserved.
John Kampfner, CEO of Index on Censorship said:
“Sadly, the BBC has once again buckled in the face of authority or wealthy corporate interests. It has cut a secret deal. This is a black day for British journalism and once more strengthens our resolve to reform our unjust libel laws.”
Jonathan Heawood, Director of English PEN, said:
“Forced to choose between a responsible broadcaster and an oil company which shipped hundreds of tons of toxic waste to a developing country, English libel law has once again allowed the wrong side to claim victory. The law is an ass and needs urgent reform.”
- Visit libelreform.org for more details of the ongoing campaign to change the UK’s libel laws.