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

July 17, 2014

The Society of Environmental Journalists 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."

Among the 38 groups were SEJ, the Society of Professional Journalists, the American Agricultural Editors' Association, the American Society of News Editors, Investigative Reporters and Editors, Radio Television Digital News Association, National Newspaper Association, National Press Photographers Association, National Scholastic Press Association, Native American Journalists Association, Poynter Institute, and the Online News Association.

"We ask that you issue a clear directive," the groups wrote Obama, "telling federal employees they’re not only free to answer questions from reporters and the public, but actually encouraged to do so. We believe that is one of the most important things you can do for the nation now, before the policies become even more entrenched."

The letter complained specifically that "most federal agencies prohibit their employees from communicating with the press unless the bosses have public relations staffers sitting in on the conversations. Contact is often blocked completely. When public affairs officers speak, even about routine public matters, they often do so confidentially in spite of having the title 'spokesperson.' Reporters seeking interviews are expected to seek permission, often providing questions in advance. Delays can stretch for days, longer than most deadlines allow. Public affairs officers might send their own written responses of slick non-answers. Agencies hold on-background press conferences with unnamed officials, on a not-for-attribution basis."

These are practices that many SEJ members have objected to for years.