Trans-Pacific Partnership could sabotage the First Amendment

Editor’s note:  The Guild is sponsoring a forum on this issue next Mon., Mar. 21 at 7 pm.  Click on this link for details.

Concerns about a provision that could sabotage the First Amendment rights of our members, especially journalists, have prompted the Pacific Media Workers Guild to oppose U.S. participation in a proposed 12-nation trade agreement called the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The Guild Executive Committee voted in January to urge all U.S. senators and House representatives from within our Local’s primary coverage area of northern California, Nevada and Hawaii to reject the TPP.

Troubling to us is TPP Article 18.78 (QQ.8.H in early drafts), which bars unauthorized disclosure of corporate trade secrets. The provision purports to protect companies’ competitiveness and profitability. But it also puts journalists, news media and whistleblowers at risk of lawsuits or even criminal prosecution for exposing environmental pollution, product impurity or toxicity, corrupt business practice or other corporate malfeasance.

If Congress could rewrite the TPP before voting on whether the United States should be part of it, we could urge that Article 18.78 be deleted or revised to specify that it could not overturn constitutionally protected freedom of expression or of the press. But that’s not the case. Congress ceded that power when it approved trade-promotion, or “fast track,” authority for the U.S. president.

It means that Congress must approve or reject the TPP as a whole package and as presented by the president. In our view, that makes Article 18.78 a deal-killer.

The Guild in early 2015 spoke out against the secrecy of TPP negotiations and cautioned Congressmembers that by approving trade-promotion authority for the president, they would surrender their constitutionally prescribed advise-and-consent role in this matter.

Bernie Lunzer, president of our national Union, The NewsGuild-CWA, went further and opposed the TPP outright, and urged locals to do the same. Our Local declined at first to take sides on the trade pact itself, because journalistic ethics dictate that we stay neutral on most issues.

But we do speak out on matters affecting the ability of our journalist members to do their jobs, and TPP Article 18.78 meets that criterion.

What is more, we hope the Guild’s component units and their members will contact their Congressmembers ( offers an up-to-date directory), to the extent their bylaws and ethical standards allow, to urge that the United States stay out of the TPP.

The above commentary is by Richard Knee, chair of the Guild’s Legislative and Political Committee.

Editor’s note:  The Guild is sponsoring a forum on this issue next Mon., Mar. 21 at 7 pm.  Click on this link for details.

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Pacific Media Workers Guild

We are the Pacific Media Workers Guild, Local 39521 of The Newspaper Guild-Communications Workers of America. We represent more than 1,200 journalists and other media workers, interpreters, translators, union staffs and freelancers.

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