Thirty-eight journalism and open government groups today called on President Obama to stop practices in federal agencies that prevent important information from getting to the public.
The national organizations sent a letter to Obama today urging changes to policies that constrict information flow to the public, including prohibiting journalists from communicating with staff without going through public information offices, requiring government PIOs to vet interview questions and monitoring interviews between journalists and sources.
“The practices have become more and more pervasive throughout America, preventing information from getting to the public in an accurate and timely matter,” said David Cuillier, president of the Society of Professional Journalists. “The president pledged to be the most transparent in history. He can start by ending these practices now.”
The letter outlines other specific examples of the excessive information control, considered by some as a form of censorship:
Officials blocking reporters’ requests to talk to specific staff people;
Excessive delays in answering interview requests that stretch past reporters’ deadlines;
Officials conveying information “on background,” refusing to give reporters what should be public information unless they agree not to say who is speaking.
Federal agencies blackballing reporters who write critically of them.
Never before has such a broad-based coalition of journalism and good-governance organizations spoken out on this issue. The growing number of examples of “mediated access” have not just frustrated journalists but have led to specific cases of important information not reaching the public.
“Our members find that U.S. Environmental Protection Agency press staff routinely block them from getting needed information — even in a public health crisis, even when the agency is rolling out new regulations and it’s important to localize the story,” said Beth Parke, executive director of the Society of Environmental Journalists. “Anytime officials suppress information or downplay scientific findings, they are interfering with the public’s right to know. When reporters are ignored, and access is denied, news stories suffer and the public is cheated.”
In addition to the letter, the organizations provided the White House with resources on the issue and a list of obstruction examples. They asked the administration to set up an avenue through which such incidents can be reported.
SPJ and SEJ urge journalists to join them in fighting these trends in public and private entities at the national, state and local levels. News outlets can resist these trends by publishing editorials, explaining the tactics in news stories and openly resisting them whenever they occur. Journalists are invited to sign up for further information by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. To see the letter that was sent in full to President Obama click here.
Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For more information about SPJ, please visit http://www.spj.org/.
The 38 groups who signed the letter are:
American Agricultural Editors’ Association
American Agricultural Editors’ Association Professional Improvement Foundation
American Society of Journalists and Authors
American Society of Business Publication Editors
American Society of News Editors
Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists Association
Asian American Journalists Association
Associated Collegiate Press
Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication
Association of Opinion Journalists
Center for Media and Democracy
College Media Association
Colorado Press Women
Defending Dissent Foundation
Journalism Education Association
Investigative Reporters and Editors
North American Agricultural Journalists
National Federation of Press Women
National Newspaper Association
National Press Foundation
National Press Photographers Association
National Scholastic Press Association
Native American Journalists Association
Online News Association
The Poynter Institute
Project on Government Oversight
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility
Public Radio News Directors Incorporated
Radio Television Digital News Association
Regional Reporters Association
Reporters without Boarders
Society of Environmental Journalists
Society of Professional Journalists
Student Press Law Center
Tully Center for Free Speech at Syracuse University
UNITY Journalists for Diversity