SEJ Condemns House Science Panel Arrest of Journalist

February 8, 2012

The Society of Environmental Journalists on February 6, 2012, lodged a formal protest of the arrest of an uncredentialed documentary filmmaker from a public hearing by a House Science subcommittee.

In the letter, the SEJ said it "writes today to condemn in the strongest possible terms your ejection of Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Josh Fox from the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology’s Energy and Environment Subcommittee hearing concerning the Environmental Protection Agency’s policies and the enforcement of water quality issues surrounding natural gas drilling or "fracking."

The committee hearing took place February 1. Fox was handcuffed and arrested by Capitol police. He was later charged with "unlawful entry" and a court date was set for February 15.

Under normal procedures, camera crews in the Capitol must be credentialed by the Radio-Television Correspondents' Gallery, which is governed by the news media. Committees may waive those rules, and commonly do. Fox had sought credentials from the Gallery and a waiver from the committee, but received neither in time for the hearing.

The SEJ letter was signed by Carolyn Whetzel, president; Ken Ward Jr., Freedom of Information Task Force chairman; and Robert McClure, board liaison to the Task Force.

"Journalists come in all stripes, and documentary filmmakers have a long and storied history of informing the public about important policy matters, especially the sorts of environmental protection issues Mr. Fox covered in his film, 'Gasland.' It is our understanding that he hoped to film your committee's Feb. 1, 2012, hearing as part of his work on a follow-up film on the ongoing controversies over fracking."

"Media reports indicate that Mr. Fox was removed because he did not have proper credentials to cover a House of Representatives hearing," the letter continued. "Clearly, this sort of clerical issue could have easily been handled by your staff without resorting to ejecting Mr. Fox from the proceedings."