Published by MAC on 2020-10-03
Source: ABC, The Guardian (2020-09-28)
Litigation designed to impede journalists carrying out their duties
Lawyers for Adani have sought to identify people who obtained leaked information about its Carmichael coal project, raising concerns that journalists could be dragged into “conspiracy” legal proceedings launched by the miner. Environmental activist Ben Pennings, from the group Galilee Blockade, is being sued by Adani for conspiracy, intimidation and breach of confidence. The Carmichael project in north Queensland has become Australia’s most significant flashpoint in the broader debate about coal and climate change.
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Adani legal action sparks fears journalists could be targeted over Carmichael mine leaks
Activist being sued by mining giant says it offered to drop case if he identified how ‘information they say is confidential information has been allegedly used’.
Mon 28 Sep 2020
Lawyers for Adani have sought to identify people who obtained leaked information about its Carmichael coal project, raising concerns that journalists could be dragged into “conspiracy” legal proceedings launched by the miner against an environmental activist.
The activist, Ben Pennings, from the group Galilee Blockade, is being sued by Adani for conspiracy, intimidation and breach of confidence.
Adani alleges Pennings “orchestrated a sustained campaign” against the Carmichael coal project, in which he solicited confidential information about the construction process and used it to harass contractors.
Pennings told Guardian Australia that Adani had offered to cease the legal action against him if he provided an affidavit “identifying how the information they say is confidential information has been allegedly used”.
“I deny what Adani alleges in their civil action against me, but it’s no secret that as Galilee Blockade’s spokesperson I spoke to journalists regularly,” Pennings said.
“As a citizen passionate about press freedom, I’m concerned Adani will continue their attacks on journalists by unnecessarily dragging them into my supreme court proceedings.”
Adani has previously sought to access ABC journalists’ records via freedom of information requests. The company has recently taken to social media to criticise journalists from the ABC and Nine newspapers in relation to stories about its business dealings.
The Carmichael project in north Queensland has become Australia’s most significant flashpoint in the broader debate about coal and climate change. In recent years, multiple news reports have detailed information about the project that was obtained via leaks, or that Adani had otherwise not sought to reveal.
Adani did not address questions sent by Guardian Australia last week, seeking to clarify whether the company intended to take court action, or seek similar damages, from journalists who had obtained and published the company’s confidential information.
The journalists’ union has also raised worries that Adani’s moves to identify those who obtained its information could ultimately target journalists.
“It is concerning when litigation is designed to impede journalists carrying out their duties in reporting on matters that are in the public interest,” the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance acting media director, Adam Portelli, said.
“There can be no doubt that the activities of Adani are of great interest to Australians. Any attempt to intimidate, threaten or harass journalists or to prevent them from reporting such matters is clearly an attack on press freedom.
“There is a long history of corporations engaging in strategic litigation against public participation to avoid scrutiny of their operations, muzzle freedom of expression and deny the public’s right to know. These actions tend to be self-defeating simply because they provoke even greater curiosity about what the company may be trying to hide.”
Guardian Australia asked Adani whether it was seeking the names of journalists who had obtained confidential information; whether the company considered journalist were part of the alleged “conspiracy” involving Pennings; and whether it intended to take legal action against journalists.
Adani Australia said in a statement: “Out of respect to the courts and in accordance with prudent legal advice, Adani is not able to comment without prejudicing negotiations with Mr Pennings via the media.
“We expect Mr Pennings to honour his commitment to comply with the supreme court order made on 11 September 2020. Further, we look forward to receiving his response to Adani’s claim in due course.”
Pennings said he would fight the case against Adani.
“Adani has a lot to gain if concerned citizens are too scared to tell the truth or engage in peaceful protest,” he said. “The more my family and I suffer, the stronger the threat to the wider community.
“Civil society must fight Adani’s attacks on journalists and activists in the court of public opinion.”
Adani granted injunction to stop activist Ben Pennings using ‘confidential material’
10 Sep 2020
Mining giant Adani has been granted an injunction ordering an activist to stop using “confidential material” it claims is frustrating the development of its mine and rail network in the Galilee Basin.
Adani launched legal action in the Supreme Court in Brisbane against activist Ben Pennings, claiming he had continually demanded contractors who had agreements with the mining company to terminate or withdraw from negotiations.
Adani also argued Mr Pennings would encourage others to provide confidential information to an ongoing campaign — The Galilee Blockade — concerning plans and operations at the site.
Today’s order comes after Adani twice failed to secure a search order to seize evidence from Mr Penning’s home.
In his written judgement, Justice Glenn Martin said Adani had provided evidence that between January 2017 and June 2018 the Galilee Blockade, “encouraged persons to seek employment with Adani for the express purpose of later divulging information (including confidential information) to the Galilee Blockade”.
Justice Martin said the protest activity undertaken by the group had led to at least three contractors withdrawing from negotiations.
Activist Benjamin Pennings says Adani is “determined” to hurt him and his family.(Supplied: Facebook)
“The information published on the social media accounts reinforces that the Galilee Blockade is determined to continue to obtain confidential information and to use it, and other information, to place pressure upon contractors to either withdraw from negotiations or to withdraw from contracts,” Justin Martin said.
Under the injunction orders handed down this morning, Mr Pennings will be required to remove certain social media posts and be prevented from using confidential information obtained through campaigns run by him.
Activist accused of ‘intimidation and conspiracy’
Outside court, Mr Pennings said he would respect the court’s injunction but was “very concerned” about ongoing civil action in which Adani accused Mr Pennings of a “breach of confidence, inducing breach of contract, intimidation and conspiracy”.
“I have a family at home, kids, a kid with a disability,” Mr Pennings said.
“If Adani is successful with their civil action, I’ll have to sell my house, and that’s really difficult for my family, but Adani seem determined to hurt me.
“I don’t believe I should have to sell my suburban family home in Aspley to make an Indian multi-billionaire even richer.
“The ‘Stop Adani’ movement is massive. I’m just one passionate person. They really can’t sue all of us.”People attend an anti-Adani rally in Brisbane.
The ‘Stop Adani’ movement opposes a controversial coal mine in Queensland’s Galilee Basin. (AAP: Dan Peled)
In a statement, an Adani spokesperson said the company sought the injunction in order to prevent Mr Pennings from continuing what the company claims is, “a sustained campaign of harassment and intimidation against our business and contractors, whilst the civil legal proceedings that we have brought against him are underway”.
“We are pleased with the outcome of today’s hearing that the injunction is now in place, and we will continue to pursue the civil legal proceedings, while hoping that Mr Pennings honours the terms of this injunction and refrains from undertaking any further activity that could cause distress to our employees and contractors,” the statement said.
“Adani recently launched civil legal proceedings against anti-fossil fuel activist Mr Ben Pennings to protect our rights, as well as those of our employees and contractors, to carry out legal and legitimate business activities.
“We have advised Mr Pennings that we would no longer pursue this legal matter if he made a permanent undertaking to: remove any online material related to the ‘Dob in a Contractor’ campaign, remove content from online channels that encourages the collation of confidential material about our business, and to stop what we allege is threatening behaviour towards our contractors and employees.
“Mr Pennings to date has not agreed to this undertaking and so we are proceeding with the civil case.”