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Thursday, December 17, 2009 

The BBC is spineless, yet again.

The one thing it seems you can rely on the BBC to do, especially post-Sachsgate, is to fold completely when challenged by almost anyone on almost anything. It decides it can't broadcast Javier de Fruto's dance tribute to Diaghilev, supposedly because they stupidly agreed to transmit it pre-watershed before they discovered it contained a deformed pope, pregnant nuns and "wild sex", but also you suspect because of the outcry which would have naturally followed had they decided to do so even after 9pm; apologises for asking a stark but legitimate question concerning Ugandan legislation against homosexuality on its notorious Have Your Say boards; and now, and most, pathetically, has settled the libel claim from Trafigura over Newsnight's original broadcast on the toxic waste dumping by a contractor of the company in Ivory Coast.

The BBC report claimed that the toxic waste had caused deaths, something which the company has ferociously disputed, and it admitted no such liability when it settled with either the Ivory Coast government for $200 million or the 31,000 personally exposed to the waste, who were bought off for a pitiful £30 million. That there were deaths, contrary to Trafigura's claims, represented by the egregious Carter-Ruck, was supported by the investigation by the United Nations Special Rapporteur Prof. Okechukwu Ibeanu:

"On the basis of the above considerations and taking into account the immediate impact on public health and the proximity of some of the dumping sites to areas where affected populations reside, the Special Rapporteur considers that there seems to be strong prima facie evidence that the reported deaths and adverse health consequences are related to the dumping of the waste from the Probo Koala."

Supposedly terrified of the cost of defending the reporting, with the Guardian claiming that Carter-Fuck could at the end of the action leave the BBC with a bill for £3,000,000 (or half a Jonathan Ross), as well as the prospect of it being heard by Mr Justice Eady, the corporation caved in. Trafigura's director Eric de Turckheim meanwhile is still maintaining that the dumping of the waste was "a deplorable action which Trafigura did not and could not have foreseen", even after emails between company executives showed that they knew full well of the toxic nature of the slops they were seeking to get rid of and the specialist cleaning which was required.

Quite where this leaves the BBC's increasingly rare investigations is anyone's guess. What it does clearly do is further embolden Carter-Fuck, a law firm it seems which truly has no shame when it comes to those it chooses to represent. It failed to gag parliament and the Grauniad, but the BBC was an easier target. The question of just what the BBC increasingly is for also remains unanswered.

The original Newsnight report is still incidentally available on YouTube:


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Very harsh on the BBC. (Via David Leigh at The Guardian):

The BBC issued a combative statement, pointing out that the dumping of Trafigura's hazardous waste had led to the British-based oil trader being forced to pay out £30m in compensation to victims.

"The BBC has played a leading role in bringing to the public's attention the actions of Trafigura in the illegal dumping of 500 tons of hazardous waste" the statement said. "The dumping caused a public health emergency with tens of thousands of people seeking treatment."

reports like http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/newsnight/8259765.stm still remain

Not really. The BBC had more than a case it could have made and it let down the journalists that reported on Trafigura in the first place.

I realised as soon as I hit 'Publish' that I should have put 'a bit harsh, rather than 'very'.

You're right, but I think that the context is important. Even now, the BBC is 2nd only to The Guardian in their coverage of Trafigura. That might sound like 'we should be grateful for small mercies,' but the BBC brought a lot of attention to the story - it's up to us to continue the fight.

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