AAJA & 37 Other Journalism Groups Urge President to Stop Excessive Controls on Public Information

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.

INDIANAPOLIS – 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 kfoxhall@verizon.net. 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:

  1. American Agricultural Editors’ Association
  2. American Agricultural Editors’ Association Professional Improvement Foundation
  3. American Society of Journalists and Authors
  4. American Society of Business Publication Editors
  5. American Society of News Editors
  6. Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists Association
  7. Asian American Journalists Association
  8. Associated Collegiate Press
  9. Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication
  10. Association of Opinion Journalists
  11. Center for Media and Democracy
  12. College Media Association
  13. Colorado Press Women
  14. Defending Dissent Foundation
  15. Journalism Education Association
  16. Investigative Reporters and Editors
  17. iSolon.org
  18. North American Agricultural Journalists
  19. National Federation of Press Women
  20. National Newspaper Association
  21. National Press Foundation
  22. National Press Photographers Association
  23. National Scholastic Press Association
  24. Native American Journalists Association
  25. Online News Association
  26. OpenTheGovernment.org
  27. The Poynter Institute
  28. Project on Government Oversight
  29. Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility
  30. Public Radio News Directors Incorporated
  31. Radio Television Digital News Association
  32. Regional Reporters Association
  33. Reporters Without Borders
  34. Society of Environmental Journalists
  35. Society of Professional Journalists
  36. Student Press Law Center
  37. Tully Center for Free Speech at Syracuse University
  38. UNITY Journalists for Diversity