DFAT blocks media from public TPP briefing



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 However, a number of journalists from major media outlets yesterday revealed that the department had rescinded permission by journalists to attend.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.


  1. Just send a friend from “the public” and get them to record it with their phone or similar. Has to be suspicious if government activity is “off the record”.

  2. There’s no such thing as any official government action or discussion being ‘off the record’; such a statement has zero legal standing. If a Government employee is being paid to do work, then it is public money and public time and thus official business. It can be Classified as a National Security matter and thus exempt from public discourse, but otherwise the public has every right to know what is said, what is written and what is negotiated by the Government.

    • “otherwise the public has every right to know what is said, what is written and what is negotiated by the Government.”

      I’m sorry, but I couldn’t help but laugh out loud at that. The commonly accepted version inside government of what you just wrote is more like:

      “the public has no right to know what is said, what is written and what is negotiated by the Government”

      • Indeed. Which is just one reason there is such a disparity between the will of the people and the direction of the government, particularly when the government seeks to alter the intent of laws proscribing the limits of their activities.

  3. So I’m going along to the DFAT TPP briefing in Sydney today and I’m happy to take any media calls after (finishes at 5.30pm).. Cheers, Ian

  4. Not in the public interest because there aren’t many articles about it?
    Are they really trying to equivocate ‘public interest’ between ‘popular topics in the media’ and ‘information pertinant to the general welbeing of society’ ?
    Surely the FOI people use the grown up definition of ‘public interest’ and not the cheap one?

  5. “… 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 your humble opinion.

    I am not sure these issues are defined as objectives of the Agreement.

    • It need not be defined as an objective in order to have a relevant impact in a particular area. Some of the most problematic legislation in history was devised as a solution to one problem but just created another problem where the legislators didn’t think it would be applied. That’s why laws seem so convoluted and lengthy even when legislating simple matters – the language needs to be as specific as possible to avoid ambiguity.

  6. I wonder if that public servant who was punished for having a private twitter account publishing negative facts about the Government is aware that the Government now accepts that even during paid working hours public servants can be ¨off the record¨. It should help with any appeal she may have planned.

  7. How can you invite interested stakeholders one minute and then move to block attendance citing ‘off the record’.

    If it was a public briefing it clearly is on the record. This is typical of the secrecy surrounding the TPPA negotiations. It seems the invitation was so well hidden on the website, that it was only after a number of people, including journalists registered, that it all went awry.

  8. I thought media organizations including the press are the very stockholders that should be involved after all they hold a non insignificant amount of copyright material.

  9. I am sure that if the “Partnership” is against Public Interest and pushing even more Govt. intervention and restrictions then Alan Jones will be all over it.

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