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The New England First Amendment Coalition and 26 journalism and open government groups sent a letter today to every member of Congress calling for support of 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,” according to the letter which was drafted by the Society of Professional Journalists.
“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,” the groups wrote.
Many of the organizations signing the letter 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.
Through surveys and studies over many years, the Society of Professional Journalists found a relatively rapid trend of federal agencies and others prohibiting staff members from communicating to journalists without first reporting to public information officers or others charged with monitoring and managing these conversations.
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 and on what those restrictions do to the nation’s functioning.
NEFAC was formed in 2006 to advance and protect the Five Freedoms of the First Amendment, including the principle of the public’s right to know. We’re a broad-based organization of people who believe in the power of an informed democratic society. Our members include lawyers, journalists, historians, academics and private citizens.
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Major Supporters of NEFAC include Hearst Connecticut Media Group, the Barr Foundation, The Boston Globe, WBUR and Boston University.