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APEC - functional, or just fashionable?

The Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation forum is one of those important-sounding annual gatherings where the great and the good, our leaders, apparently make important decisions that will determine all our futures.

Last modified: 8 Nov 2009 13:04
Photo by Reuters

The Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation forum, APEC, is one of those important-sounding annual gatherings where the great and the good, our leaders, apparently make important decisions that will determine all our futures.

Barack Obama, Hu Jintao and Dimitry Medvedev will arrive in Singapore this week, and the presence of the most powerful men in the world will guarantee enormous attention and reams of somber and meaningful headlines, like

"Obama to meet Myanmar, other ASEAN leaders"

and

"APEC leaders to push for new global economic plan"

In fact, even before the event begins, we are receiving press releases from pre-conference seminars saying that leaders plan to "... maintain our economic stimulus policies until a durable economic recovery is secured".

It sounds firm and committed, doesn't it? And yet at the same time, it's rather vague and non-commital.

Now I don't want to sound overly sceptical about this, but that's how the entire event is likely to play out. Beyond the headlines, I am really not expecting to hear any detail, any binding commitments or any actual, you know, news.

In fact, over the course of many years covering these events, I have found that the most significant event has always been the closing ceremony, where the world leaders all dress up in local costume for a photo opportunity.

But let's face it, what can you expect from a conference where the conclusion of the discussions, the "draft communique", is issued before the leaders even arrive?

And how can journalists even hope to get any meaningful information when the organisers go to such extreme lengths to keep them away from the leaders?

What the average reader/viewer will not know is that the journalists covering the event will mostly spend their time in the media area, well away from the serious meetings.

Organisers will helpfully provide facilities for live broadcasts, and computers for print media to write stories, and a regular flow of press releases furnishing body copy; but as far as real access is concerned ... an occasional press conference or seminar is about the most we can hope for.

Having said all that, Al Jazeera is going to be in Singapore, and we'll be making a special effort to gather something meaningful and informative from the meetings. Let's hope the organisers, and the leaders, co-operate.