Why haven’t American news media picked up on ACTA?

Jessica Weiss
January 26, 2010

Researching the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) isn’t all that easy to begin with.  First of all – it’s secret.  Although there have been several instances of leaked documents and memos, there isn’t a definitive source for the full text.  Secondly, it is a polarizing subject and people (and organizations) tend to fall on either side.  Those on one side argue that ACTA is necessary to protect the economy, that secrecy is the norm in trade negotiations, and regardless, that the text must remain confidential in the interest of national security.  Those on the other side argue that the secrecy of the negotiations is inappropriate given the special nature of this agreement, that ACTA will inevitably lead to drastic changes in domestic law and information sharing generally, and that the future of innovation and open internet are at risk.

Both sides raise reasonable points, and while I tend to align with those on the latter side, it is always useful to understand both sides and to read ‘neutral’ sources.  Thus, I endeavored to find information regarding ACTA in the vast array of national newspapers that this country has to offer.  I soon discovered that American newspapers are not picking up on either side of the ACTA debate in large numbers at all.  In fact, the discussion regarding ACTA is almost completely absent from any American newspaper, with the Washington Post as the biggest exception with only three articles.  The Hollywood Reporter comes in second with two articles about ACTA, and several smaller newspapers including the Chattanooga Times Free Press and the Pittsburg Post Gazette tie for third place with one article each referencing ACTA and the negotiations.

Perhaps, I thought to myself, this is the way that the press in all of the ACTA participating countries are treating the negotiations?  Given the lack of information and mass amounts of speculation about the text, perhaps the press is waiting for more concrete information.  So I did a little search and once again proved myself wrong.  Canadian newspapers dwarf the American Press with over twice the number of articles referencing ACTA.  The Toronto Star wins out over both countries with fourteen articles that refer to ACTA.  The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), which is the Canadian equivalent to NPR, has also done numerous stories dealing with ACTA and the possible repercussions, while NPR has done no stories at all and has only referred to ACTA in its Technology Blog.  While this is better than nothing, it is still minimal compared to its Canadian counterpart.  Newspapers in other countries, including Australia, New Zealand, and the European Union have written about and analyzed ACTA.

There is no doubt that in the ACTA debate bloggers have lead the way, with reputable sources such as Michael Geist and Knowledge Ecology International spearheading the effort.  However, it is important that mass media such as our national newspapers include their voices in the debate.  While the negotiations might be secretive, there is no reason why the public cannot enter the debate about the potential merits and perils of ACTA, and to do so the public must be aware that the debate exists.  Media pundits, journalists, op-ed contributors – this is your call to action!  Regardless of where you fall in the debate, make your opinions and information available so that the public can also share their opinion.  This will only help those who are actively engaged in shaping the future of the face of copyright enforcement and policy.


Jessica Weiss is a law student from the University of Ottawa working this semester as a Fellow at PIJIP.  The teaser image was placed online under a creative commons license by mfophoto.



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