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SPJ requests discussion with Biden Administration about the free flow of information


Matthew T. Hall, SPJ National President, 619-987-7786, mhall@spj.org
Jennifer Royer, SPJ Director of Communications and Marketing, 317-361-4134, jroyer@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS — The Society of Professional Journalists National President Matthew T. Hall sent a letter today to President-elect Joe Biden urging him to end the restrictions on employees in federal offices and agencies speaking with the press.

The U.S. government’s rules prohibit employees from speaking to the press without notification or oversight by authorities, often by using public information officers as gatekeepers.

“These rules, exacerbated under the Trump administration, amount to extreme censorship and damage everyone’s understanding of government,” Hall said. “They literally threaten people’s lives.”

SPJ met with the Obama administration in 2015 to urge openness in government agencies, but the situation only became worse. SPJ and 60 other journalism groups asked the Trump administration for a similar meeting, but received no response.

“SPJ wants to start a conversation with the new presidential administration, on behalf of our members and all journalists, that we hope will lead to a mutual understanding of the appropriate role of the press in coverage of the administration and federal agencies that fall under the executive branch,” Hall said. “President-elect Joe Biden was part of the Obama administration, which, despite its promise to be the most transparent in history, took several steps that infringed on the ability of the free press to thoroughly cover it.

“While the Trump administration has been much worse, we want to make sure President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris understand that it is not acceptable to return to the Obama administration’s approach,” Hall said.

An extensive analysis from the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information says that the controls are unconstitutional and many courts have ruled this way. Surveys from 2012 to 2016 of reporters and PIOs found the chokepoints pervasive, and the problem is growing worse.

“SPJ believes the nation is suffering the consequences of these controls during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the letter states. “Agencies that the public count on, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration, have stymied reporting for years. Often, the press is not allowed in their facilities and reporters are prohibited from contacting staff without the authorities’ oversight; in reality, reporters are often not allowed to speak to anyone.

“Journalists understand that some information is legitimately confidential,” the letter continues. “That does not justify silencing staff on matters of public business.”

SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to informing citizens; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and fights to protect First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. Support excellent journalism and fight for your right to know. Become a member, give to the Legal Defense Fund or give to the SPJ Foundation.


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