More than fifty journalism and open-government groups on August 10, 2015, asked President Obama to end agency press office restrictions that prevent reporters from talking to government employees. The Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ) joined them.
SEJ has complained about press-office restrictions for years. For example, U.S. EPA employees tell reporters they are not allowed to talk to news media without permission from the press office. The press office routinely requires a public information officer to sit in on any interviews they do permit. Yet EPA insists that it has no such policy, and failed to provide any written documentation in a recent response to a WatchDog request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
"The public has a right to be alarmed by these constraints — essentially a form of censorship — that have surged at all levels of government in the past few decades," the groups wrote to Obama. "Surveys of journalists and public information officers (PIOs) demonstrate that the restraints have become pervasive across the country; that some PIOs admit to blocking certain reporters when they don't like what is written; and that most Washington reporters say the public is not getting the information it needs because of constraints."
On his first day in office in January 2009, President Obama made headlines by announcing that his would be "the most open and transparent in history." But journalism groups have complained about secrecy throughout his administration. This did not keep Obama from asserting in February 2014 that he actually HAD run the most transparent administration ever.
Yet Obama's evidence of openness is at odds with the evidence gathered by journalists. In a March 18, 2015, story by Ted Bridis, the Associated Press found that federal agencies had set a new record for withholding government records under FOIA.
The groups signing the August 10, 2015, letter to President Obama include the following:
- American Copy Editors Society
- American Society of Journalists and Authors
- American Society of News Editors
- Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists Association
- Asian American Journalists Association
- Associated Collegiate Press
- Association of Alternative Newsmedia
- Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication
- Association of Opinion Journalists
- Bill of Rights Defense Committee
- Center for Media & Democracy
- Center for Scholastic Journalism
- College Media Association
- Colorado Press Women
- Committee to Protect Journalists
- Defending Dissent Foundation
- Demand Progress
- Education Writers Association
- Freedom of the Press Foundation
- Government Accountability Project
- Investigative Reporters & Editors
- Journalism Education Association
- Local Independent Online News Producers
- Media Freedom Foundation
- Minnesota High School Press Association
- National Association of Hispanic Journalists
- National Federation of Press Women
- National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association
- National Press Photographers Association
- National Scholastic Press Association
- Native American Journalists Association
- New England First Amendment Coalition
- The NewsGuild - Communications Workers of America
- Online News Association
- PEN American Center
- The Poynter Institute
- Project Censored
- Project On Government Oversight
- Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility
- Radio Television Digital News Association
- Regional Reporters Association
- Religion Newswriters Association
- Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
- Reporters Without Borders
- Society of Environmental Journalists
- Society of Professional Journalists
- Student Press Law Center
- Sunlight Foundation
- Tully Center for Free Speech at Syracuse University
- Virginia Professional Communicators
- "More Than 50 Journalism Groups Again Urge President Obama To Stop Excessive Controls on Public Information," Society of Professional Journalists, August 11, 2015.
- Text of journalism groups' August 10, 2015, letter to President Obama.
- "Mediated Access: Transparency Barriers for Journalists' Access to Scientists and Scientific Information at Government Agencies," Center for Science and Democracy (Union of Concerned Scientists), July 2015.
- "Reporters Are Having Trouble Reaching Government Researchers – and That’s a Problem," SciLogs, August 5, 2015, by Matt Shipman.
- "Administration Sets Record for Withholding Government Files," Associated Press, March 18, 2015, by Ted Bridis.
- "President Obama's Muddy Transparency Record," POLITICO, March 5, 2012, by Josh Gersten.
- Previous Stories; WatchDogs of July 29, 2015; July 15, 2015; and January 22, 2009.