news The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has taken the extraordinary step of rescinding confirmations of attendance for journalists who had registered to attend a public briefing on the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement in Sydney today, stating that the meeting is “off-the-record”, and that journalists are not welcome.”
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a secretive, multi-national trade agreement that threatens to extend restrictive intellectual property (IP) laws across the globe and rewrite international rules on its enforcement. A number of major countries are currently negotiating the agreement, including the US, Japan, Australia, Peru, Malaysia, Vietnam, New Zealand, Chile, Singapore, Canada, Mexico, and Brunei Darussalam.
Leaked draft texts of the agreement show that the intellectual property chapter would have extensive negative ramifications for users’ freedom of speech, right to privacy and due process, and hinder peoples’ abilities to innovate. In addition, the process of the TPP negotiations has been shrouded in secrecy.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade had previously advertised the fact that a public briefing was to have been held on the agreement in Sydney today. However, a number of journalists from major media outlets yesterday revealed that the department had rescinded permission by journalists to attend.
“DFAT accepted my invitation to attend a public briefing on the TPP yesterday. Today, they’re rescinding it,” wrote Financial Review journalist James Hutchinson on Twitter yesterday. “Have just been told by DFAT that I’m no longer allowed to attend a briefing tomorrow on the TransPacific Partnership negotiations,” wrote ZDNet journalist Josh Taylor.
Taylor posted a screenshot of an email from DFAT stating: “As per previous practice, the stakeholder consultation is off the record, and as such, the briefing will not be open to media representatives. DFAT is happy to arrange a more tailored briefing with relevant negotiators on the Intellectual Property Chapter of the TPP for you at a mutually suitable time.”
DFAT has also removed all references to the event from their website. However, the original content from that page is still available on a website planning to protest during the briefing. The original invite states:
“As part of the Australian Government’s ongoing public consultation process on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) negotiations, the TPP negotiating team will be visiting Sydney on 30 October 2013 to meet with interested members of the public, and business and civil society stakeholders. The meeting will provide an update on the negotiations and an opportunity for further stakeholder input.”
DFAT’s move to censor the public meeting has already attracted controversy.
“This proves empirically that the Government has something to hide regarding the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement. There is absolutely no justification for barring any Australian from attending a briefing regarding a trade agreement, especially one as opaquely negotiated as the TPP,” said Brendan Molloy, Councillor of Pirate Party Australia, in a statement issued yesterday.
“It is of utmost importance that the media attends these events so that the broader public may understand what is at stake when these kinds of agreements are drafted behind closed doors, without scrutiny or oversight, and what major effects on Australia the TPP will have, such as the possible introduction of an investor-state dispute settlement regime, or major changes to our copyright and patent legislation. These bureaucrats need to be held to account.”
“I’ve already had a freedom of information request have a fee levied with the justification that the TPP isn’t in the public interest because there have been few articles written about it. It’s pretty hard to write an article about something when you’re barred from attending the briefings, and instead offered an arrangement where you’re spoonfed Government spin and prevented from hearing the important, unanswered questions being asked by the stakeholders that shine a harsher light on this secretive agreement,” concluded Mr Molloy.
The Pirate Party stated that it could not understand the justification that a public briefing should be considered off-the-record, and as such the party demanded that the invitations were reinstated for any journalist that requested access, and that future public briefings are just that: public.
“It is comical to note that this week is considered Global Transparency Week. DFAT certainly knows how to end it with a bang,” the Pirate Party’s statement said.
DFAT has been invited to respond to the allegation that it is blocking journalists from attending the public briefing on the TPP.
A draconian and pointless move. As if DFAT can stop members of the public simply recording the meeting on their smartphone and then providing that audio to journalists afterwards. You can’t hold a “public” briefing and claim it’s “off the record”. Public meetings are on the record by their very nature. This kind of action by DFAT is worse than infantile — it’s incompetent. If you want to kill media attention to something like this, you don’t block the media from attending — that only draws journalists like flies. I didn’t even know about this briefing until I heard the news that journalists were barred from attending. Instead, you hold the meeting but make it so boring that the media won’t bother reporting on it. That’s a time-tested strategy which the smartest bureaucrats have been using for centuries.