38 journalism groups urge president to stop excessive controls on public information

July 10, 2014

Online Staff Report

INDIANAPOLIS — Thirty-eight journalism and open government groups have called on President Barack Obama to stop practices in federal agencies that prevent important information from getting to the public.

The national organizations sent a letter to Obama July 8 urging changes to policies that constrict information flow to the public, including prohibiting journalists from communicating with staff without going through public information offices (PIO), 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 (SPJ). “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, including:

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; and

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 (SEJ). “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.

The 38 groups who signed the letter include the following:

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

iSolon.org

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

OpenTheGovernment.org

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

Posted July 10, 2014

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