SEJ, Groups Ask Environment Canada for Openness

May 7, 2009

Concerned over restrictions on news-media access to Canadian environmental scientists, the Society of Environmental Journalists and other groups have renewed calls on Environment Canada to change its press policy.

Environment Canada ignored similar pleas a year ago, not even deigning to respond to an SEJ letter. Despite Environment Canada's refusal to disclose its press policy, journalists have gotten documentation of it. They say it restricts public access to science that taxpayers have paid for, and they want it changed.

The National Association of Science Writers, Canadian Science Writers' Association, Professional Writers Association of Canada, Association of Health Care Journalists, National Federation of Press Women, and Canadian Journalists for Free Expression joined SEJ in writing Minister of the Environment Jim Prentice April 10, 2009 asking for an end to the censorship of science.

Environment Canada changed its press protocol under John Baird, Prentice's predecessor, forbidding journalists from speaking directly to Canadian environmental scientists.

"We ask that you reverse the Environment Canada communications policy change," the groups wrote, "because it is hindering journalists' efforts to adequately cover environmental issues and the ability of Environment Canada scientists to disseminate critical information in a timely fashion. For example, an SEJ member attending a conference recently hosted by Environment Canada was forbidden by the assigned press officer to interview scientists after they had given their public presentations."

"The new policy shows a lack of commitment to government transparency and obstructs the public's access to information," the groups' letter said. "The public pays the salaries and funds the research at Environment Canada. Some 60 percent of the department's workforce and 80 percent of its budget are devoted to science and technology. Our job is to opportunely distribute information and analysis to the public and decision makers. Restricting scientists' freedom to converse with media representatives undermines our professional efforts."