The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and New Zealand Trade and Enterprise are presently running a series of roadshows on the New Zealand-China Free Trade Agreement.

That roadshow was in Dunedin on June 9 and 10.

More than 130 registrations were taken for the two-day seminars and workshops being run for southern businesses interested in pursuing ‘opportunities’ in China under the auspices of the Free Trade Agreement.

It was a bizarre cloak and dagger affair.

The media were told by government bureaucrats that they could only attend the first day as ‘observers’ and could not report what was discussed. They weren’t even allowed to take photos.

Perhaps the representatives of the Chinese regime, present at the two-day seminar, were camera-shy.

But it got worse on the second day: the media was banned altogether from the workshops that were being held.

The Otago Daily Times took issue with the severe media restrictions and were told that an active media presence would inhibit ‘full and frank discussion.’

Of course there’s a lot be sensitive about when it comes to the Chinese regime – low wages, lack of political freedoms, no trade union protection for workers, etc.

Only the Alliance raised a stink about this unjustified media ban.

Alliance spokesperson Victor Billot commented that the roadshow was ‘a publicly funded forum to discuss free trade. What gives the right for unelected, unaccountable state servants to shut off the public from being told what free trade has got in store for them?”

Billot went on to say that it was obvious manufacturing jobs were going to evaporate under free trade agreements, and such sensitive issues had been placed off the agenda.

“The workers who are being laid off at Fisher and Paykel when their jobs got moved to Mexico have a right to know what is going on with free trade deals, since their taxes are paying for these cosy chats with the select few. Why aren’t workers being invited to these seminars?”

“This is exactly what the Alliance has been saying all along. The restrictions on democracy and free speech in our free trading partners will spread back towards us. Information is being restricted and controlled, and the public will be kept in the dark and fed public relations spin.”

This remarkable and disturbing clampdown on basic media freedoms went largely unnoticed in the corporate mainstream media.


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