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Home > SPJ News > SPJ opposes restrictions on intelligence employees speaking to journalists

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SPJ opposes restrictions on intelligence employees speaking to journalists




David Cuillier, SPJ National President, 520.248.6242,
Ellen Kobe, SPJ Communications Coordinator, 317.920.4785,

INDIANAPOLIS – The Society of Professional Journalists is outraged at the federal government’s latest restriction on the free flow of information to the public: prohibiting U.S. intelligence community employees from speaking to journalists without authorization, even about unclassified information.

“Despite the promise of the Obama Administration to be the most transparent in U.S. history, we continue to see exactly the opposite,” SPJ President David Cuillier said. “This policy enshrines the growing practice of the federal government to control the message and muzzle information vital to the public.”

Last month, James R. Clapper, director of national intelligence, wrote a memo that outlines the protocol for employees speaking to the media about security issues, defining the act as a potentially fireable offense. The policy was issued on March 20, but didn’t receive significant attention until Monday, when the Federation of American Scientists and the Project on Government Secrecy wrote about it.

The memo states: “(Intelligence community) employees … must obtain authorization for contacts with the media on covered matters through the office responsible for public affairs … and must also report to that office unplanned or unintentional contact with the media on covered matters.”

This policy follows other challenging events in government transparency. Just last year, Clapper apologized after former agency contractor Edward Snowden leaked top-secret information that revealed the National Security Agency was collecting data on millions of Americans. Since then, the Obama administration has released hundreds of documents related to the data gathering.

A study released by SPJ last month showed that journalists are increasingly frustrated at the growing controls, particularly by the federal government, on information, including prohibiting government workers from talking to the press, funneling questions through public relations tacticians, requiring questions to be presented ahead of interviews and blackballing reporters who question too aggressively.

“We found that journalists are increasingly stymied in their efforts to act as watchdogs over government and that the problem of information control has gotten worse during the Obama Administration,” said Carolyn S. Carlson, an assistant professor of communication at Kennesaw State University who conducted the study.

SPJ calls for the reversal of this order and demands that the Obama administration make more concerted efforts to be diligent in practicing government transparency.

“We as Americans should not stand for this kind of information control that continues to expand and warp the messages citizens receive about their government, loaded with spin and omission,” Cuillier said. “This isn’t about the government versus the press. This is the government versus the people.”

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

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