As the Berlin wall was coming down 20 years ago, my grandfather encouraged me to keep my first newspaper cutting. In the eighties, cuttings were the standard way to keep a memento of a news item.
I bought the Economist (17 October) because I wanted to read what it had to say about cloud computing. It coincidentally took me until the 9 November to stumble upon the article that speaks about press freedom and the internet, and thus the link I am making with the fall of the wall. The move to greater openness, that the Western world celebrated on 9 November 1989, still finds obstacles to this day.
But there is no wall to stop bloggers from writing about anything and Google from finding it.
The Economist reported how a British court granted a “super-injunction” at the request of an oil company that wanted to keep the press off the story that it was allegedly found dumping toxic waste off the Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast).
On the 12 October, Labour MP Paul Farrelly put a related parliamentary question to the Justice secretary. On the same day, the Guardian published on its website that it was being “prevented from reporting parliamentary proceedings on legal grounds which appear to call into question privileges guaranteeing free speech”. By the following morning the Guardian editor was using Twitter to encourage listeners to watch his space and that the paper was “hoping to get into court today to challenge ban by Carter-Ruck on reporting parliament”. Bloggers speculated online and according to a Wikipedia article it was Guido Fawkes’ blog that broke the news. The same Wikipedia article states that, in 2007, the oil company’s press officer “attempted to alter the Dutch Wikipedia article “Probo Koala” on three separate occasions, with intent to clear the company’s name”.
The gag was lifted on the following day when the firm’s solicitors withdrew their opposition to the Guardian.
The injunction had been obtained on the 11 September 2009. Political will to guarantee freedom of information, the existence of a persistent press and the sheer force of social media freed, in two days, what had been under cover for over a month.