2009 Archives: SEJ Speaks on FOI Issues

October 27, 2009
SEJ Calls for End to Interview-Control at FDA

SEJ and other journalism groups, led by the Association of Health Care Journalists and the Society of Professional Journalists, have called on FDA's Transparency Task Force to help end interview restrictions as "practices that restrict the flow of information to the public." Resultant problems include negligence in notifying schools of tainted lunch foods and not revealing the harmful or fatal side-effects of the drugs it approves.

September 21, 2009
SEJ Joins Amicus Brief on Dangerously Expanded FOIA Exemption

The Society of Environmental Journalists and several other media organizations joined the case of a Puget Sound resident denied information, under the "law enforcement" exemption to FOIA, that would identify the locations and potential blast ranges of explosive ordnance stored in the area.

The case is important because information denied under this exemption could include pipeline safety inspection data, environmental impacts of Liquefied Natural Gas terminals, maps showing consequences of dam failure, proposed powerline corridors, or the routing of railcars carrying toxics that could wipe out most of a city.

July 24, 2009
SEJ, Groups Urge High Court To Toss Curb on Speech in Wildlife Case

The Society of Environmental Journalists, along with twelve other journalism groups, joined the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press in filing a friend-of-the-court brief in the case known as U.S. v. Stevens. The groups challenge the constitutionality of a 1999 federal law (18 USC 48) making it a felony to create, sell or possess “a depiction of animal cruelty with the intention of placing that depiction in interstate or foreign commerce for commercial gain.”

The law was aimed at discouraging the production of pornographic "crush videos," which depict the deliberate killing of animals. But sloppy legal draftsmanship resulted in a law that could put journalists and publishers in jail for doing investigative exposés of inhumane conditions at slaughterhouses, documentaries on bass fishing, or human interest stories on circus parades.

April 10, 2009
SEJ urges Environment Canada for Openness — again

The Society of Environmental Journalists and other groups have renewed calls on Environment Canada to change its press policy restricting news-media access to Canadian environmental scientists.

The groups, including National Association of Science Writers, Canadian Science Writers' Association, Professional Writers Association of Canada, Association of Health Care Journalists, National Federation of Press Women, and Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, said the policy "shows a lack of commitment to government transparency and obstructs the public's access to information."

February 26, 2009
SEJ opposes "The Fair Copyright in Research Works Act"

SEJ joined other national and international science journalism organizations in urging the House Judiciary Committee to reject H.R. 801, "The Fair Copyright in Research Works Act."In the letter, SEJ asked DOE to withdraw the proposed amendments and, if not, to delay its final decision until the Obama administration assumes office on January 20, 2009 — only 11 days after the close of the comment period.

The letter, sent to Chair John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI) and Lamar Smith (R-TX), Ranking Republican, said "...we find it unacceptable that H.R. 801 would prohibit American taxpayers from accessing the results of crucial biomedical and other research funded by their taxpayer dollars. This bill could severely affect the media's important role in providing independent coverage of scientific research and its results to the American public."


January 7, 2009
SEJ opposes DOE's proposed FOIA amendments 

SEJ submitted comments on two U.S. Department of Energy proposed FOIA rule changes — elimination of a "balancing test" and doubling the per-page copying rate imposed on some FOIA requesters. Both amendments would result in less disclosure of information to which SEJ members and the public are entitled, contrary to the Congressional intent underlying the FOIA.

In the letter, SEJ asked DOE to withdraw the proposed amendments and, if not, to delay its final decision until the Obama administration assumes office on January 20, 2009 — only 11 days after the close of the comment period.


January 2, 2009
SEJ urges public, timely EPA results of TN coal-ash-release testing

SEJ wrote the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Region 4 Administrator requesting "complete and immediate transparency" of test results related to the December 22, 2008, coal-ash pond impoundment breach in east Tennessee. EPA's first results weren't released until 11 days following the massive spill, which spread over more than 300 acres and into a tributary of the Tennessee River. Meanwhile, independent water testing found alarmingly high arsenic levels.

The letter noted: "We've been down this road before. Journalists covering Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and air quality issues after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks were frustrated by the EPA's slow response to requests for information. A September 2005 SEJ report — "A Flawed Tool: Environmental Reporters' Experiences with the Freedom of Information Act" — noted that EPA's failure to be forthcoming about environmental monitoring was only the latest in a long line of problems journalists were encountering using FOIA."

EPA responded to SEJ February 12, 2009, agreeing that it is "in the public's best interest to have EPA provide quality analytical data as expeditiously as possible." The letter then summarized EPA's activities at the TVA Kingston Fossil Fuel Fly Ash Release Site.

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