In the increasingly hush-hush no man’s land where the boundaries of media and law meet, home of back-room deals and cheating footballers, it has become unsurprising that headlines and stories are batted between the two factions until a mutually acceptable “truth” is agreed upon.
We all know now that Ryan Giggs slept with Imogen from Big Brother, shocking I know, a footballer and an over-endowed D-list “celebrity”. But things have reached a fever pitch when the wording of a petition against the University being funded by companies engaged in arms trade (morally bad, yes?) becomes legally objectionable.
Even writing this piece has become a minefield; constantly checking for libellous statements (can I call Imogen Thomas a D-list celebrity?) rather than perpetrating an honest opinion. Clearly, there are significant issues with certain university departments being funded by companies with some morally and ethically dubious business contracts, but what is more disturbing is that these issues cannot be addressed by concerned students, because of the oily legality of the companies in question.
Clearly, this petition has hit a particularly potent chink in BAE’s legal armour
BAE have never been convicted in court of corrupt practices, but the fear of legal action is still nonetheless potent in national protest groups. Somehow the wording of a petition, which captures the essence of the problem, if not the legally acceptable phraseology, is enough to provoke BAE into potentially suing the students behind the petition. Methinks the vast multinational doth protest too much.
Clearly this petition has hit a particularly potent chink in BAE’s legal armour. No-one listens to students normally; a protest of over fifty thousand students in November 2010 against a rise in tuition fees received political lip service, with no impact on governmental plans to increase fees.
So why has a petition by a few students in York managed to induce such a severe response in BAE? The petition was generally well received, but the opposition to BAE’s funding was nowhere near fifty thousand strong; evidently, it’s not what you say, it’s who you say it about.
Regardless of what has officially been said in court, any organisation receiving a $400 million criminal fine from in the US cannot hope to succeed in the whiter-than-white morality play. Nonetheless, a re-wording of the petition; a reconfiguration of the truth of the matter- which is amenable to protesting students and corporate lawyers alike; will surely put the protest back in motion.
The question is how to reach that compromise, with one side wielding terrifying legal power, and the other wielding an incorrectly worded petition.