WatchDog TipSheet

SEJ, 37 Journalism Groups Urge Obama to Stop PIO Spin at Fed Agencies

SEJ is hardly alone in complaints about EPA's press office gagging agency employees who might talk to reporters. In a July 8, 2014 letter, 38 journalism groups called on President Obama to stop the political spin of information at many federal agencies. Reminding Obama of his still-unkept promise to run the most transparent administration in history, the groups complained about widespread "politically driven suppression of news and information."

More Tips for Getting Around Press Office Obstruction

SEJ members aren't the only ones who find federal agency press offices to be hard to get call-backs, on-record interviews, or simple information from. Many health writers have the same problem. In the latest issue of Harvard's Nieman Reports, Jenni Bergal paints a broad canvas of the problems many journalists have in getting from agencies key information that affects the public interest.

Legislation Moving in Congress Could Strengthen FOIA

Sens. Patrick J. Leahy (D-VT) and John Cornyn (R-TX) introduced a bill that would add a balancing test and sunset to the "deliberative process" exemption in the current FOIA law. That exemption shields from disclosure records documenting internal policy debates within agencies before final decisions are made. Prospects for the Senate bill are improved by the fact that Leahy chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee and a related bill has already been passed by the House.

Data: 1,401 High-Risk Oil and Gas Wells on Fed Land Go Uninspected

Federal data, though sometimes hard to get, can provide many local stories for environmental journalists. Case in point: AP and Climate Desk journalists got data from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management on high-risk oil and gas wells on federal and Indian lands from 2009 to 2012. Some 40 percent of the high-risk wells had not been inspected. BLM says it does not have enough inspectors. See AP's exposé and Climate Desk's map showing the counties with the most uninspected wells.

Will Safety Trump Secrecy in Oil-by-Rail?

Should firefighters and residents know whether trains loaded with explosive oil are routed through the heart of residential districts? Many railroads say no, claiming it is a security issue. But on June 18, 2014, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) dismissed that claim, saying that oil train routing was not sensitive security information. Yet the railroads are fighting back.

"Who Gets A Press Pass?" Report Explores Media Access

Experienced journalists know that a press credential is often critical to gaining physical or virtual access to news events and information. It's an aspect of information access rarely covered by the news media themselves. A new report from the Digital Media Law Project at Harvard looks systematically at who gets a press card and who does not.

Ashtracker Database Helps Journos Dig Up Stories on Coal Ash Problems

Local reporters can find information about coal-ash situations in their own areas using a newly improved database compiled by the Environmental Integrity Project which goes well beyond anything previously available because it includes large amounts of painstaking research by EIP. The site is important for its focus on contamination of groundwater that people may drink by the toxic heavy metals in coal combustion wastes.

When Is a Policy Not a Policy? When Reporters Want To Talk to EPA Staff

For some years now, under multiple administrations, journalists who have called EPA scientists and other experts asking to talk to them about matters large and small have almost universally been told something like, "I'm not allowed to talk to news media without Press Office permission." Yet EPA officials maintain they do not have a press policy. SEJ's WatchDog filed June 10, 2014 the first of what will be an ongoing series of FOIA requests to get to the bottom of this ironic situation.

Judge Orders Exxon To Produce Records on Leaky Arkansas Pipeline

ExxonMobil lost a bid to keep federal regulators and prosecutors from getting records which might show criminal negligence in its operation of the pipeline that spilled oil into the Arkansas community of Mayflower in March 2013. The judge also threw out Exxon's motion to dismiss a lawsuit against the company.

SEJ Objects to EPA "No Attribution" Presser on Carbon Rule

SEJ objected strenuously last week to  the ground rules for a telephone press briefing on U.S. EPA's carbon emissions rule for existing power plants. In a June 5, 2014, letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, the Society of Environmental Journalists objected to the "truncated, anonymous 'background' tele-briefing for news media" held on the June 2 roll-out day. The text of EPA's June 10 response to SEJ's letter is here.

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