About AHCJ: General News

AHCJ joins groups urging Congress to address communication between journalists and federal agencies Date: 11/06/19

CONTACT: Felice J. Freyer, felice.freyer@globe.com

COLUMBIA, Mo. – The Association of Health Care Journalists has joined the Society of Professional Journalists and 25 other journalism and open government groups in urging every member of Congress to support unimpeded communication with journalists for all federal employees.

“It is essential to public welfare and democracy that this issue is addressed. Not allowing experts to speak freely to reporters is authoritarian and keeps sources from explaining a variety of things that are the public’s business,” the groups say in a letter sent to Congress members today.  

“This ‘Censorship by PIO’ works in tandem with other assaults on free speech including restrictions on public records, threats and physical assaults on reporters, prosecution of whistleblowers and threats of prosecution against reporters.”

Many groups in the coalition of organizations have been working for several years to spark changes in the restrictions put on federal employees and the lack of freedom to speak to journalists. For more than a decade, AHCJ’s Right to Know Committee has pressed federal officials to improve journalists’ access to federal experts.

“AHCJ members too often receive empty, scripted statements when they ask for interviews,” said Felice J. Freyer, AHCJ vice president and chair of its Right to Know Committee. “Especially on matters relating to public health, nothing can substitute for a conversation with the experts working on taxpayers’ behalf. The public has a right to hear from them directly.”

SPJ National President Patricia Gallagher Newberry  said: “SPJ has done surveys and studies for many years and has found a relatively rapid trend toward federal agencies and others prohibiting staff members from communicating to journalists without reporting to public information officers or others charged with monitoring and managing these conversations. “It has become a cultural norm and an effective form of censorship, preventing information from reaching the public, leadership of the agencies themselves and even Congress.”

The groups note that the Scientific Integrity Act (H.R. 1709 and S. 775), as introduced by Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY) and Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), had the intent of allowing federal scientists to speak to the media as well as publish scientific findings, participate in scientific organizations and communicate in other ways.

The bill’s introduction would have been an important step in promoting discussion of these extraordinarily dangerous blockages to free speech. However, the little protection the bill contained for scientists’ right to speak to the press was stripped out in the Oct. 17 mark-up in the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.

The organizations call on Congress to hold hearings on free speech issues and to work with the Executive Branch to complete a thorough examination on why free speech has become so undermined for millions of people that legislation is needed to allow free speech without reporting to authorities, and on what those restrictions do to the nation’s functioning.

“SPJ and its partners have sent letters to President Obama and more recently, President Trump, urging their attention to this issue. In addition, a coalition representing 53 journalism and open government groups met with President Obama’s press secretary at the White House in December 2015 about the issue. But it is still a widespread problem that needs to be addressed,” Gallagher Newberry said.

Those organizations joining this most recent letter are:

American Society of Journalists and Authors, Inc.
American Society of Magazine Editors
Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication
Association of Alternative News Media
Association of Health Care Journalists
Defending Rights & Dissent
International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors
Journalism Education Association
Media Freedom Foundation
National Association of Black Journalists
National Federation of Press Women
National Press Photographers Association
National Scholastic Press Association/Associated Collegiate Press
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
National Writers Union, President
New England First Amendment Coalition
News Leaders Association
Open the Government
Project Censored
Radio Television Digital News Association
Religion News Association
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing
Society of Environmental Journalists
Society of Professional Journalists
Tully Center for Free Speech