‘New media’ circumvent gag order on ‘old media’

Over in Britain they’re having bailout issues as well. The Guardian newspaper just published a series of leaked memos showing how Barclays Bank conspired to evade taxes — while receiving huge sums of public money to avoid bankruptcy.

A whistleblower at the bank leaked seven memos describing the tax avoidance schemes. The Guardian posted them online on Tuesday as Barclays lawyers worked feverishly to get a court to order them taken down. These efforts paid off by 2:30 a.m. Wednesday, when a court order forced the newspaper to remove the documents at once.

The wheels of justice certainly do turn more swiftly when you have a stable of lawyers at your beck and call.

Fortunately, by this time the documents had been copied and reposted elsewhere on the Web. You can see them for yourself at Wikileaks.org, a site devoted to just this kind of disclosure.

There’s been a lot of talk about who will do in-depth investigative journalism once the newspapers have gone the way of the dinosaurs. It may be that no other institution will emerge to support demanding investigative work, which cannot be done by bloggers in their spare time.

This story suggests, though, that the new media environment may provide more opportunities for successful whistle-blowing. After all, this story was not the result of ferreting by Guardian reporters, but of leaks from inside Barclays. A court succeeded in squashing the newspaper’s effort to publicize the information, but it was beyond the court’s power (or, to be fair, its intention) to squash the entire Web.

Wikileaks quotes a comment at another “old media” website, the Financial Times, on the significance of these Barclays memos.

The depth of deceit, connivance and deliberate, artificial avoidance stunned me. The intricacy and artificiality of the scheme … was absolutely evident, as was the fact that the [bankers] knew exactly what they were doing and why: to get money from one point in London to another without paying tax, via about 10 offshore companies. Simple, deliberate outcome, clearly stated, with the exact names of who was doing this, and no other purpose.

Whatever happens next, I think the present moment has rich opportunities for collaboration between “old” and “new” media.

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One thought on “‘New media’ circumvent gag order on ‘old media’

  1. I think newspapers will reinvent themselves in online incarnations. If I know anything about capitalism, I know that anything that can be used to make money will be used to make money. This included investigative journalism.

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