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Home > SPJ News > SPJ reiterates call to EPA to stop muzzling national scientists

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SPJ reiterates call to EPA to stop muzzling national scientists


12/1/2014


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 1, 2014

Contacts:
Dana Neuts, SPJ National President, 360.920.1737 (PST), dneuts@spj.org
Jennifer Royer, SPJ Communications Strategist, 317.361.4134, jroyer@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Society of Professional Journalists is reiterating its call to the Environmental Protection Agency to stop banning leading national scientists from communicating with the press and the public.

In recent days the EPA has reaffirmed in great part its policy released earlier this year restricting the communications of independent scientists who advise the agency, according to a memorandum from the EPA’s chief of staff. In response, SPJ sent another letter to the EPA Monday decrying their decision.

An April memo instructs advisory committee members not to respond to questions from the press, Congressional offices or anyone else, and to route such requests through the agency.

A number of science and journalism groups objected to that policy when it came to their attention in August, saying it inhibits scientists’ ability to speak freely about important scientific issues, including air pollution, toxic chemicals and water quality.

Without withdrawing that memo, the agency has now issued a “clarifying” memo that apparently restricts the scientists’ speech only when the advisory committees are, “still actively developing its advice of the Agency.”

However, the deliberative phase is the most important time in recommendation development. Under the policy, the public may be blocked from information for months. By the time a recommendation is made public, it may have such effort and momentum behind it that changing it significantly would be difficult.

In the meantime committee members will be insulated from feedback—even from key experts on the issues—because discussion through specialized or mainstream publications or any other avenue is stymied.

The policy sets a dangerous precedent of recommendation development that is at least partially behind closed doors. Advisory committees to federal agencies are often critical to decisions that have serious, long-term impact in areas from health care to drugs to law enforcement.

Advisory committees can be so influential that agencies must explain themselves if they don’t follow their recommendations.

SPJ president Dana Neuts said, “Suppression of information and opinion is one of the most dangerous things that can happen in any nation. To the hazard of us all, not even people instituting the restriction can predict what vital discussions will not happen because of it.”

The EPA actions mirror its own and other federal agencies’ increasing tactics to control the message and funnel reporters through public information officers rather than fostering direct interviews between journalists and expert sources. In July, SPJ and more than 37 other groups voiced their concern to President Obama about this growing form of censorship.

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 spj.org.

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