SEJ Speaks on FOI Issues

Information on SEJ's actions advocating access to environmental information — and supporting the media's right to know on behalf of the public — from 2010 to the present are listed below. Previous years are archived: 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003 and 2002 (the year SEJ's Freedom of Information Task Force was formed).


May 12, 2020
SEJ Joins RCFP Amicus Brief — Center on Privacy and Technology v. New York City Police Department

SEJ joined with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 24 other media organizations in filing an amicus brief in support of the Center on Privacy and Technology, a Georgetown University think tank which filed a records request under New York’s Freedom of Information Law seeking records related to the New York Police Department’s use of facial recognition technology. Nearly three years later, after court orders compelled NYPD to turn over records to CPT, NYPD officials said they had accidentally turned over records that they should not have disclosed. A court order required CPT to return some of the records and prohibited the think tank from referencing the NYPD documents as the source of the information that it published. CPT appealed and was denied, and seeks leave to appeal to the New York Court of Appeals, a higher appellate court. The amicus brief supports this action as the court’s decision denying appeal sets a dangerous precedent that threatens the First Amendment rights of journalists who obtain information using the Freedom of Information Law.

May 12, 2020
SEJ Joins RCFP Amicus Brief — Husch Blackwell v. Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority

SEJ joined with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 22 other media organizations in filing an amicus brief in support of law firm Husch Blackwell which, in 2019, filed a request under WMATA’s Public Access to Records Policy seeking access to a third-party consultant’s report concerning the concrete used to construct a new subway line fraught with budget issues, delays and setbacks. After the request was denied, Husch Blackwell filed a lawsuit against WMATA, which the district court ruled against, stating the report fell under a FOIA exemption. The amicus brief posits that the court should reverse its order granting summary judgment in favor of WMATA and reject the consultant corollary theory, which helps keep agencies’ communications with private-sector consulting companies shrouded in secrecy.

April 22, 2020
SEJ Joins RCFP Application for Leave To Intervene — Biancardi v. Italy

SEJ joined with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 28 other media organizations in applying for leave to intervene (via submission of written comments) in a “right-to-be-forgotten” case before the European Court of Human Rights. The case, Biancardi v. Italy, concerns the application of the right to be forgotten against an online newspaper that refused to comply with a request to delete a story about a 2008 stabbing incident between two brothers. The media coalition's comments will primarily focus on the balance between the right to be forgotten and the right to freedom of expression, without commenting on the facts or merits of the case.

April 9, 2020
SEJ Joins RCFP Amicus Brief — Gottwald (Dr. Luke) v. Sebert (Kesha)

SEJ joined with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 15 other media organizations in filing an amicus brief in Gottwald (Dr. Luke) v. Sebert (Kesha). Mega music producer Dr. Luke is suing his one-time musical protege Kesha for libel as she alleged that he raped her and then filed a sexual harassment case against him. The amicus brief is in support of Kesha, because Dr. Luke is claiming he's not a public figure. Why it matters: how courts interpret 'public figure' impacts the work of journalists.

February 21, 2020
SEJ Protests SBA "No Journalists" Environmental Roundtable

The Small Business Administration announced an "environmental roundtable" Feb. 28, as being “open to all interested persons, with the exception of the press." The Society of Environmental Journalists, through its Freedom of Information Task Force, has protested this in a Feb 21 letter. "By excluding the press," wrote Task Force Chair Timothy B. Wheeler, "you cast a shadow of suspicion that these roundtables are somehow a private back door to influencing the federal government."

  • Read the text of SEJ's February 21, 2020, letter to the SBA Acting Chief Counsel Major L. Clark III.

February 19, 2020
SEJ Joins RCFP Amicus Brief — La Liberte v. Reid

SEJ joined with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 20 other media organizations in filing an amicus brief in La Liberte v. Reid. In 2018, Roslyn La Liberte filed a defamation lawsuit against MSNBC host Joy Reid after the journalist shared comments and photos on her social media accounts that showed La Liberte interacting with a teenager during a city council meeting about immigration legislation. The suit was dismissed and the court also awarded Reid her attorney’s fees, as permitted by the California anti-SLAPP law. La Liberte appealed. This amicus brief supports Reid seeking affirmance that the appeals court should uphold the ruling of the trial court that Reid is entitled to recover attorneys’ fees under the California anti-SLAPP statute.

February 5, 2020
SEJ Joins RCFP Amicus Brief — Carroll County E911 v. Hasnie

SEJ joined with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 15 other media organizations in filing an amicus brief in Carroll County E911 v. Hasnie. Carroll County refuses to disclose 911 recordings pertaining to a November 2016 house fire in which four Flora, Indiana children died — even after reporter Aishah Hasnie filed a complaint with the Office of the Public Access Counselor, which issued an advisory opinion that the records were not exempt from disclosure.

February 3, 2020
SEJ Joins RCFP Amicus Brief — Parekh v. CBS

SEJ joined with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 55 journalism groups and other interested parties in filing an amicus brief in Parekh v. CBS, supporting the right of CBS and reporter Brian Conybeare to recover attorneys’ fees under the Florida anti-SLAPP statute. "[I]f this Court holds that the state-law fee-shifting provision does not apply in federal court, Florida SLAPP plaintiffs will simply file their meritless lawsuits in this circuit’s federal trial courts, and chill constitutionally protected speech."

January 30, 2020
SEJ Joins Protest of Sec. Pompeo Treatment of NPR, Media

The Society of Environmental Journalists SEJ has protested Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's retaliation against, and abuse of, National Public Radio and its reporters. SEJ President Meera Subramanian signed the January 30 letter. Read more.

January 22, 2020
SEJ Condemns Indonesia Arrest of Mongabay Journalist

The Society of Environmental Journalists condemned Indonesia’s arrest and imprisonment of Philip Jacobson, an editor for the environmental news site Mongabay. In a Jan. 22 letter to the ambassador of the Republic of Indonesia and to officials with the U.S. Department of State, SEJ President Meera Subramanian called for Jacobson’s prompt release, for charges against him to be dropped and for his passport to be returned. Read more.

January 16, 2020
SEJ Opposes Press Restrictions for Trump Impeachment Trial

The Society of Environmental Journalists joined with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 56 other media organizations in a letter opposing restrictions on the press during the upcoming Senate impeachment trial of President Donald J. Trump. SEJ speaks out about right-to-know issues, such as this one, which would hinder journalists’ efforts to share timely and accurate updates and commentary with the American public.

November 6, 2019
SEJ Urges Congress To Address Communication Between Journalists and Federal Agencies

SEJ joined with the Society of Professional Journalists and 27 other journalism groups in urging members of Congress to address the ongoing issue of censoring and restricting federal employees' communication with journalists. "It is essential to public welfare and democracy that this issue is addressed. Not allowing experts to speak freely to reporters is authoritarian and keeps sources from explaining a variety of things that are the public's business," the groups say in the letter.

October 16, 2019
SEJ Joins RCFP Amicus Brief — Georgia v. Public.Resource.Org

SEJ joined with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 24 other journalism groups in filing an amicus brief in Georgia v. Public.Resource.Org, a copyright case before the United States Supreme Court. The case concerns whether Georgia can copyright its only official annotated code. (The state claims copyright in only the annotations, not the statutory text, but the practical effect is to deny access to the entire official code.)

October 4, 2019
SEJ Joins RCFP Amicus Brief — Martin v. Rollins

SEJ joined with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 15 other journalism groups in filing an amicus brief in support of K. Eric Martin and Rene Perez in Martin v. Rollins, urging the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit to affirm the trial court's decision that Massachusetts' wiretapping statute is unconstitutional to the extent it prohibits secret recording of police officers and other government officials while in the public performance of their duties and where there is no reasonable expectation of privacy.

October 3, 2019
SEJ Urges Audio Live-Streaming in Six SCOTUS Cases

SEJ joined a media coalition of 32 groups in signing an amicus letter asking the Supreme Court to provide live audio, or in the alternative same-day audio, in the Court's six cases on October 8 (Title VII nondiscrimination cases) and on November 12 (DACA cases). The coaltion argued that the court's usual policy of releasing audio recordings of oral arguments at the end of the week on which they are heard would "impede journalists' ability to provide same-day coverage of the arguments to readers, viewers and listeners who rely on the news media for information about these crucial issues of significant public interest."

September 11, 2019
SEJ Joins RCFP Amicus Brief — Pitch v. U.S.

SEJ joined with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 51 other journalism groups and interested parties in filing an amicus brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit's en banc rehearing of Pitch v. United States. The issue in the case is whether district courts can exercise their inherent authority to order disclosure of grand jury materials in extraordinary circumstances expressly enumerated in Rule 6(e).

August 6, 2019
SEJ Joins RCFP Amicus Brief — Machado Amadis v. Department of Justice

SEJ joined with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 35 other journalism groups in filing an amicus brief in Juan Machado Amadis v. Department of Justice, trying to get the court to establish firm boundaries on new language inserted by Congress in 2016 in the Freedom of Information Act that allows agencies to withhold documents if they "foresee" their disclosure could harm some interests protected by one of the exemptions provided in the law. The groups want the court to set a high standard for invoking that language.

June 27, 2019
SEJ Joins RCFP Amicus Brief — ALDF v. Reynolds

SEJ joined with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 21 other journalism groups in filing an amicus brief in Animal Legal Defense Fund et al. v. Reynolds, a case before the 8th Circuit concerning the Iowa ag-gag statute, which criminalizes "agricultural production facility fraud." Several animal rights and environmental organizations challenged the statute, arguing that it impermissibly restricts their freedom of speech under the First Amendment. The district court granted summary judgment for the plaintiffs, holding that the statute is a content-based restriction on speech that cannot satisfy either strict scrutiny or intermediate scrutiny.

The amicus brief argues that:

  1. The news media and agricultural facility employees have mutually reinforcing First Amendment interests in informing the public regarding the health and safety of the nation’s food supply, and that the statute chills the reporter-source relationship. The brief highlights several historical and recent examples of important reporting that relied on sources within the agricultural industry;
  2. The conspiracy provision of the statute amplifies this chilling effect by creating the potential for liability of journalists working with sources to learn about agricultural facilities;
  3. The statute is an unconstitutional content-based restriction on speech subject to strict scrutiny; and
  4. The timing of the adoption of the statute and statements by members of the Iowa legislature make clear that it was adopted in reaction to undercover investigations and resulting media coverage that cast an unwanted spotlight on Iowa’s agricultural industry, and not to protect private property and address bio-security concerns, as the state has argued.

June 26, 2019
SEJ Objects to EPA's 'Freedom of Information Act Regulations Update'

The Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ), in a letter to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler, objected to the EPA's June 26 Final Rulemaking entitled "Freedom of Information Act Regulations Update." The letter states that the rule "enables the agency to limit public access to EPA records that are legally public information" and "the highly irregular procedure of issuing a final rule without proposal or public comments is unjustified and unlawful under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA)."

Coverage of the FOIA rule issue:

June 19, 2019
SEJ Joins RCFP Amicus Briefs — Washington Post v. DOJ and ACLU et al. v. DOJ

SEJ joined with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and other journalism groups in filing amicus briefs in two related cases, Washington Post v. Department of Justice and ACLU et al. v. Department of Justice. The cases concern motions to unseal a contempt proceeding that the DOJ reportedly brought against Facebook to compel it to comply with a technical assistance order to allow the government to carry out a wiretap of certain voice communications made over Facebook Messenger. The amicus briefs support the appeals of the Washington Post and the ACLU, EFF, and Riana Pfefferkorn of the denial of their motions to unseal certain judicial records in the contempt proceeding.

May 31, 2019
SEJ Joins RCFP Amicus Brief — National Lawyers Guild v. City of Hayward

SEJ joined with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 32 other journalism groups in filing an amicus brief supporting the National Lawyers Guild after Hayward charged NLG more than $3000 for police bodycam footage of a protest related to the police killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. The brief argues that the California Court of Appeal erred in holding that the fees are permitted under the California Public Records Act and that the ruling threatens public access to all electronic records.

  • Read more here.
  • Download the amicus brief (PDF).
  • Opinion of the court (PDF), May 28, 2020. The Court held in favor of NLG, holding that the California Public Records Act does not permit the City of Hayward to require NLG to pay for the cost of redacting police bodycam videos requested under Act.

May 16, 2019
SEJ Joins RCFP Amicus Brief — Fine Point Films Limited

SEJ joined with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 19 other journalism groups in filing an amicus brief supporting Fine Point Films Limited and documentary filmmakers Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey, whose homes and offices were raided by police in connection with the alleged "theft" of an unpublished draft of a government report. The report, sent to them anonymously, was featured in their film "No Stone Unturned" (probing the unresolved 1994 Loughinisland or "World Cup" massacre in Northern Ireland). The brief argued that the search warrants were unlawful and improperly executed. Update May 31, 2019: The Belfast High Court in Northern Ireland quashed the warrants that authorized the raids, ruled that everything seized from the filmmakers must be returned, and police have dropped the criminal investigation into the filmmakers.

May 14, 2019
SEJ Joins RCFP Amicus Brief — CIR v. SEPTA

SEJ joined with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 19 other journalism groups in filing an amicus brief supporting the Center for Investigative Reporting, which sued the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) after it rejected their advertisement highlighting their reporting on racial disparities in mortgage lending.

May 6, 2019
SEJ Joins RCFP Amicus Brief — Frasier v. Evans

SEJ joined with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 37 other journalism groups in filing an amicus brief supporting plaintiff Levi Frasier in Frasier v. Evans, a case before the 10th Circuit. Frasier brought the suit alleging First and Fourth Amendment claims against five Denver police officers after the officers detained, questioned and threatened him with arrest after he filmed them on his tablet arresting and beating someone on a public street.

May 3, 2019
SEJ Joins J-Groups in Advocating for Access to Information on World Press Freedom Day

On World Press Freedom Day, SEJ joined with other journalism groups to call for freedom of the press, access to information and the protection of journalists. SEJ signed on to a joint resolution that resolves to uphold the democratic process by committing to guard against the spread of misinformation, and hosted a journalists' roundtable at Colorado State University's Denver Center, "Straddling the Climate and Policy Divide."

March 25, 2019
SEJ Joins Groups in Support of Argus Leader Media

The Society of Environmental Journalists, along with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 35 other media organizations, filed an amicus brief in support of the Argus Leader in Food Marketing Institute v. Argus Leader, which is currently before the US Supreme Court. This case involves the interpretation of the Freedom of Information Act's "trade secrets" exemption. The Food Media Institute claims an expansive interpretation of trade secrets, amounting to any undisclosed information which could harm it. The Argus Leader and the media coalition argue that this interpretation is so broad as to be dangerous to the public interest.

March 11, 2019
SEJ Joins Call for Affirmation of Dismissal of Defamation Lawsuit Against the NYT

The Society of Environmental Journalists joined the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 39 other media organizations in filing a friend-of-the-court brief urging a federal appeals court to affirm its November 6, 2018 decision dismissing the defamation lawsuit brought against The New York Times by Dr. Carlo Croce, an Ohio State University professor and cancer researcher. The brief argued that the ruling should be affirmed as it upholds protections upon which journalists rely to report on live controversies on matters of public concern. Update July 17, 2019: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled that the New York Times article in question is not defamatory

January 28, 2019
SEJ Objects to Interior Dept. Proposal To Gut FOIA Rules

The Society of Environmental Journalists has objected to the Interior Department's proposal to limit the amount of records the public can request under the Freedom of Information Act. SEJ commented on a rulemaking that would let Interior deny FOIA requests if it felt they called for "unreasonably burdensome" searches. FOIA allows for no such restrictions.

The SEJ comments say, in part, "The proposed rule would violate the spirit as well as the letter of the Freedom of Information Act. It would effectively make it harder for journalists and the public to obtain documents and information on how DOI is managing America's lands, water, wildlife, and energy resources."

SEJ also joined a coalition of journalism groups led by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press in another set of formal comments objecting to the Interior proposal.

January 10, 2019
SEJ President Quoted in Media Matters for America

Bobby Magill, president of the board of the Society of Environmental Journalists, was quoted in a January 10, 2019 Media Matters for America blog post, "EPA nominee Andrew Wheeler is gaming the media ahead of his confirmation hearing":
"'It looks to me like they're sort of returning to form,' Magill said. 'This suggests that they are returning to their previous press strategy under Scott Pruitt.'"

November 8, 2018
SEJ Objects to White House Ban of Acosta

SEJ tweeted out this statement today about the White House's unprecedented and disturbing retribution against CNN's Jim Acosta:
"The Society of Environmental Journalists objects to the White House pulling the press credential of CNN's Jim Acosta. It is a reporter's job to ask challenging questions, and when those in power respond with retribution, it amounts to unacceptable censorship. The unprecedented and unwarranted revocation of Acosta's press pass is based on a provably false allegation by Sarah Huckabee Sanders that accused Acosta of "placing his hands on" a female White House intern. We urge the White House to restore Acosta's credential immediately."

October 11, 2018
SEJ Urges Investigation into Khashoggi's Disappearance

SEJ, one of 30 journalism and free press organizations, representing thousands of journalists and their supporters, joined the United States government and others in urging a full investigation into the disappearance of Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi after he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2. Read the text of the letter here.

September 26, 2018
SEJ Insists Parks Canada Fulfills Transparency Promise

SEJ and the Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) wrote Parks Canada executives and the Canadian Minister of Environment and Climate Change calling for transparency and greater public accountability, and insisting that journalists be able to speak freely and openly with Parks Canada staff and scientists in a timely manner, whether that be on the phone, in person, or in the field.

August 16, 2018
SEJ Decries Anti-Press Rhetoric

SEJ joined ~350 other journalism groups and news media in urging President Trump to abandon the "enemies of the people" rhetoric which could incite violence and hinder the journalism that protects democracy. SEJ's statement said, "We urge the president to change his dangerous course and declare that journalists are not "enemies," but patriots whose work ensures the viability of our democracy." Find the full text of SEJ's statement here.

July 16, 2018
SEJ Objects to US Geological Survey Interview Curbs

The Society of Environmental Journalists and 10 other journalism groups have written Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke urging him not to interpose political appointees between reporters and the scientists they need to interview. Read more here. Find the full text of the letter here.

June 26, 2018
SEJ Calls on EPA Admin to Stop Assault on Government Transparency

A top House Democrat is accusing EPA of deliberately politically screening and slow-walking the fulfillment of Freedom of Information Act requests — and journalism groups are objecting to the delay. The Society of Environmental Journalists wrote Scott Pruitt, Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on June 26, calling on him to "to end this assault on government transparency now." Read more here. Find the full text of the letter here.

May 23, 2018
SEJ Objects to EPA Exclusion of Reporters from PFAS Summit

The Society of Environmental Journalists has strenuously objected to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's exclusion of reporters from its May 22-23 "Summit" meeting on the toxic PFAS chemicals in drinking water. Read more here. Find the full text of the letter here.

April 3, 2018
SEJ Urges EPA Press Office To Answer Reporters' Questions

The Society of Environmental Journalists has urged the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to answer reporters' questions directly, rather than referring them to published articles by their favored media. Read more here. Find the full text of the letter here.

January 22, 2018
SEJ Asks EPA Press Office for Information Access

The Society of Environmental Journalists has written EPA's public affairs office to ensure basic responses to journalists' information requests, after a less than smooth first year of the Trump administration. See what five key items SEJ asked for, and the full text of the letter here.

December 6, 2017
SEJ, Other Journalism Groups, Support Net Neutrality

The Society of Environmental Journalists has joined other journalism and open-government groups in urging the Federal Communications Commission not to end its established net neutrality rule. When an internet service provider also owns a news outlet, then they can give their own news content an advantage if the net is not neutral. This will tend to push out smaller news media companies and increase concentration in the news industry. Read more.

October 17, 2017
SEJ Objects Over EPA Response to AP Story

SEJ President Bobby Magill has written the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on behalf of the Society of Environmental Journalists, objecting to a Sept. 3 release from EPA's Office of Public Affairs that criticized an Associated Press story about Superfund sites during Hurricane Harvey floods. The EPA release was factually inaccurate and attempted to discredit an embarrassing story by falsely smearing a reporter by name. SEJ called on the EPA to "engage constructively with the press and stop attacking journalists for doing their jobs." Full text of SEJ letter here. Plus, read a full writeup in last month's WatchDog column.

August 2, 2017
SEJ, J-Group Coalition Launch Press Freedom Tracker

The Society of Environmental Journalists joined 20+ press freedom groups to launch the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, a new website dedicated to documenting press freedom abuses across the United States. The site will serve as a repository for data at a time when journalists in the U.S. are facing hostility, legal charges, assault and other forms of harassment.

July 27, 2017
SEJ Protests Restrictions on Filming Protestors

The Society of Environmental Journalists signed onto a National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) letter, along with several other j-groups, protesting the restrictions on filming protesters being arrested outside the Senate chamber on July 25, 2017.

March 2, 2017
SEJ Calls for Standing Rock Journalists' Charges To Be Dropped

The Society of Environmental Journalists has joined other press-freedom groups in calling for charges to be dropped against at least 10 journalists arrested in recent months for covering the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Some of those journalists were in court March 2, 2017.

February 23, 2017
SEJ Objects to Non-Public FERC Comment Meeting Format

In the face of rising protests from anti-fracking and anti-pipeline activists, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has adopted a format for some meetings that prevents the press from covering public comment in real time. The Society of Environmental Journalists has expressed concern to FERC about this practice, which also prevents the public from engaging in dialogue.

January 25, 2017
SEJ Objects to Trump EPA Gag Order, Threat of Data Removal

SEJ, in a January 25, 2017 letter, strongly urged the Trump administration to reopen communications between the federal agencies and the public immediately. Furthermore, we urged the Trump administration to maintain public access to scientific information related to climate change and all other environmental issues that was available on federal government websites prior to January 20th.

January 18, 2017
SEJ Joins 60 J-Groups Requesting Meeting with Trump Admin on News Media Access

On January 18, 2017, the Society of Environmental Journalists signed onto a Society of Professional Journalists letter, along with some 60 other journalism groups, to the Trump administration asking for a meeting on news media access. Eight more groups backed the letter after it was sent. The journalism groups asked for transparency from the incoming administration, and for “an executive order prohibiting the restrictive public information policies that have been the status quo.” They asked not just for a meeting, but for the administration to “engage in a public discussion with us about the Trump administration’s commitment to the free flow of information from the White House and all federal government, to the American people.” The letter also recapitulated access issues that had remained unresolved during the Obama administration.

December 13, 2016
SEJ Protests CBP Barring of Canadian Photojournalist En Route to Standing Rock

The Society of Environmental Journalists has voiced "grave concerns" in a December 13, 2016 letter to the U.S. government over an incident in which Ed Ou, a Canadian photojournalist en route to cover the Dakota Access Pipeline protests for the CBC, was searched at the U.S. border by Customs and Border Protection, then prevented entering.

October 19, 2016
SEJ Objects to Prosecution of Pipeline Journalists

The Society of Environmental Journalists has written law enforcement officials at the state and federal levels, objecting to prosecution of journalists who have been covering protests against the Dakota Access Pipe Line and other pipelines.

November 18, 2015
SEJ Again Opposes "Commercial Fees" for Journalists on Public Lands

After journalism groups protested federal rules imposing fees and permits on journalists working on public lands, the Senate Energy Committee November 19 approved a bill that would exempt newsgathering. By voice vote, the panel first approved an amendment containing the exemption, and then approved the underlying bill, S. 556, known as Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2015.

Aug 10, 2015
SEJ Asks Obama To End Press Office Blockades

SEJ, which has complained about press-office restrictions for years, joined over 50 other journalism groups in signing yet another letter requesting government transparency. The groups had sent a letter to the White House in July 2014, a followup in Aug 2014, resulting in a non-response response from the WH later that month.

Related coverage:

June 30, 2015
SEJ Urges Agency Openness During National Spill Crises

At the Spills of National Significance (SONS) Draft Communications Strategy forum on June 8, and in a June 30 letter, SEJ urged SONS communicators to release data fully and promptly, to acknowledge uncertainties and gaps, and to give journalists good access to officials, experts and places.

April 2, 2015
SEJ Appeals EPA Stonewalling of FOIA on Media Policy

The U.S. EPA has been stonewalling a June 2014 SEJ request for documents describing its policies for dealing with news media. Now SEJ is appealing the long delay in responding to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by calling it what it is — a denial of information.

February 4, 2015
SEJ Opposes Photo Fees and Permits in Va. Parks

The Society of Environmental Journalists and 13 other groups objected to requirements for permits and fees for photography in the public parks of Fairfax County, Virginia. In a February 4, 2015, letter to the Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA), the groups asked the agency to revise its rules to protect photojournalists' First Amendment rights.

December 3, 2014
SEJ Calls on Forest Service To Clarify Photo Permit Directives

The Society of Environmental Journalists joined a coalition of journalism groups calling on the U.S. Forest Service to make clear in its directives that journalists, documentarians, and media photographers do not need permits to take pictures in National Forest Wilderness or other public lands. The groups submitted formal comments recommending specific language in a Forest Service rulemaking on wilderness lands. But they urged the Forest Service to apply that language to all of its lands. The Society of Environmental Journalists was active in drafting the comments.

October 23, 2014
SEJ Urges Obama To Take Stand on Bipartisan FOIA Bills

The Society of Environmental Journalists wrote President Barack Obama October 23, 2014, urging him to take a strong position supporting legislation that would strengthen the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Bipartisan FOIA improvements may be one of the few pieces of legislation with a chance to clear the lame duck 113th Congress before control shifts to Republicans in 2015.

October 1, 2014
SEJ Opposes USFS "Commercial Filming" Permits

SEJ and seventeen journalism, photography, and First Amendment groups wrote U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell opposing the proposal to finalize a directive requiring permits for "commercial filming" in Forest Service Wilderness areas. Tidwell has already said the USFS does not want to restrict journalism on wilderness lands, but the groups seek changes to regulatory language that would make this clear.

September 26, 2014
SEJ FOI Chair Talks to Forest Service Chief Tidwell

After proposing a directive that seemed to require permits and fees for journalists working in U.S. Forest Service wilderness lands, the USFS announced that it had never intended the restrictions to apply to journalists. Tim Wheeler, chairman of the Society of Environmental Journalists' Freedom of Information Task Force, talked with USFS Chief TomTidwell to clarify the USFS position. Here's his report (SEJ WatchDog of September 26, 2014).

Coverage: "USFS schedules meetings to respond to concern over wilderness filming and photography permit proposal," The Olympian, November 5, 2014, by Craig Hill.

August 12, 2014
SEJ Protests EPA's Scientist "Don't Talk" Policy

An April 4, 2014 memo (not made public at the time) from EPA's chief of staff made clear that members of the agency's many science advisory panels are not to talk to the news media or Congress without permission. In an August 12th letter, SEJ was joined by SPJ, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Investigative Reporters and Editors, the Union of Concerned Scientists' Center for Science and Democracy, the American Geophysical Union, and the Society for Conservation Biology in protesting the policy. The groups urged EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy "to clarify that members of the EPA Science Advisory Board (SAB) and the twenty other EPA science advisory committees have the right and are encouraged to speak to the public and the press about any scientific issues, including those before these committees, in a personal capacity without prior authorization from the agency."

July 8, 2014
SEJ Urges Obama To Stop PIO Spin at Fed Agencies

SEJ, SPJ and 36 other journalism groups wrote a letter July 8, 2014, calling on President Obama to stop the excessive controls and political spin of information at many federal agencies. The groups wrote, "We ask that you issue a clear directive 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."

June 5, 2014
SEJ Objects to EPA "No Attribution" Presser

The Society of Environmental Journalists has objected to the Environmental Protection Agency's "no attribution" ground rule for a press teleconference that was part of its June 2, 2014, roll-out of its carbon emissions rule for existing power plants. The background briefing — which supplemented Administrator Gina McCarthy's on-record statement — made questions difficult on this complex rule.


April 9, 2014
SEJ "Condemns" Military Treatment of Blade Reporters

SEJ sent a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, condemning "in the strongest terms" the treatment of two Toledo Blade journalists March 28 by military police outside a Lima, Ohio, tank plant. The journalists were on public property when they were detained by military police. Photographer Jetta Fraser's camera was confiscated, even though she was taking pictures of what was in plain public view. Fraser was held in handcuffs, and military police threatened sexual violence against her.

April 8, 2014
SEJ Objects to Capitol Police Detention of Energy Reporter

SEJ sent a letter to U.S. Capitol authorities objecting to the March 28, 2014 incident in which Bloomberg BNA reporter Ari Natter was briefly detained by a Capitol Police officer in the hallway of the Russell Senate Office Building. Natter was trying to ask a question of EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy at the time. The letter was sent to Terrance W. Gainer, Senate Sergeant-at-Arms, and others. Gainer oversees the Capitol Police.

March 18, 2014
SEJ Wants To Know Who's in Charge at EPA

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy has said she wants to run an open agency. So why do reporters have to wait days — or weeks — to talk to agency sources after they call the press office? As 300,000 residents of Charleston, WV, faced a drinking water crisis in January 2014, it took EPA a week to find an official who could talk to the Charleston Gazette. EPA is supposed to be the main federal agency responsible for enforcing the Safe Drinking Water Act. SEJ executive director Beth Parke and Joseph Davis, director of the SEJ WatchDog Project, write an op-ed looking for answers.

January 20, 2014
SEJ, SPJ Urge EPA, CDC to End Press Office Obstacles in Public Health Crises

Journalists had trouble overcoming EPA and CDC press office obstacles and getting access to agency experts and officials during this month's drinking water contamination crisis in Charleston, WV. SEJ and the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) sent a letter of complaint on January 20, 2014 to heads of both agencies and their press offices, urging them to adopt specific practices to end press office stonewalling and increase transparency, especially in times of crisis.

August 7, 2013
SEJ Calls CHP's Media Treatment "Unacceptable"

On July 23, 2013, the California Highway Patrol arrested Steve Eberhard, a photojournalist for the biweekly Willits News, allegedly for "trespassing" on the overpass construction site where protesters had chained themselves to construction equipment. SEJ wrote CHP's commissioner August 7, 2013, stating CHP's "treatment of the media at the CalTrans construction site in Willits, CA, is unacceptable" and "directly contravenes the right to gather news that derives from the First Amendment."

May 14, 2013
SEJ Condemns DOJ for AP Phone Records Grab

SEJ strongly condemned the Department of Justice’s overly broad investigation of the Associated Press’ newsgathering operations as an infringement of First Amendment press freedoms. The DOJ secretly seized telephone records for more than 20 phone lines used by AP journalists and offices, including cell and home phone lines of more than 100 journalists, obtaining the names of sources and confidential information about the newsgathering operations.

April 9, 2013
SEJ Objects to Threatened Arrest of Reporter at Ark. Oil Spill

The March 29, 2013, spill from ExxonMobil's Pegasus Pipeline near Mayflower, Arkansas is a big deal for several reasons. But the most important thing about the Mayflower spill may be that ExxonMobil and the federal agencies involved seemed to be trying to keep news media from getting close enough to see what is going on. SEJ protested the media treatment by Exxon, EPA, and PHMSA in the incident.

April 9, 2013
SEJ Reiterates Need for Greater EPA Openness with the Media

As the Obama administration's secrecy and unresponsiveness to the media has escalated, and with Gina McCarthy's nomination to head the EPA facing confirmation, SEJ sent a statement to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee requesting they ask some hard questions and address this ongoing problem.

November 15, 2012
SEJ Backs Member Threatened by DOI Official

SEJ wrote US DOI Secretary Ken Salazar about the Election Day incident of intimidation in Colorado, when the Secretary threatened to "punch out" SEJ member Dave Philipps, senior investigative reporter with the Colorado Springs Gazette. Doing his job as a journalist (after unsuccessful attempts to contact Salazar through official channels), Philipps asked Salazar about the BLM wild horses issue, including sales to buyer Tom Davis, who is now under investigation for shipping the protected animals out of state in violation of brand inspection laws. In the letter, SEJ said "Such a threat was intemperate and uncalled for, and went well beyond the bounds of civil discourse. It disrespected the role of journalism and journalists in a democratic society, as well as their public audience." SEJ also connected the dots between the ongoing difficulty environmental journalists have gaining access to Obama administration officials and the necessity of posing their questions when the opportunity does arise.

September 25, 2012
SEJ Petitions Cambodia To Investigate Journalist's Murder

SEJ joined Internews' Earth Journalism Network in signing onto a letter/petition calling for an investigation into the murder this month of Cambodian journalist Hang Serei Oudom, a reporter with the local newspaper Vorakchun Khmer Daily. Oudom had reportedly been covering illegal logging activities. Details.

June 19, 2012
SEJ Supports Public Disclosure of Crop-Subsidy Recipients

SEJ supported an amendment filed by Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK) and cosponsored by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) that would have required public disclosure of the identities of recipients of crop insurance subsidies. The amendment was never offered on the floor — after Senate leaders reached a deal on which of nearly 250 filed amendments would be offered. SEJ takes positions on freedom-of-information issues affecting environmental journalists through its Freedom of Information Task Force, under a long-standing mandate from the SEJ board of directors.

February 6, 2012
SEJ Condemns Ejection of Filmmaker from Energy & Environment Hearing

SEJ strongly objected to the 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." In a letter addressed to Honorable U.S. Representative Andy Harris, Chairman of the Energy and Environment Subcommittee of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, SEJ stated "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.'"

  • Text of February 6, 2012, SEJ letter to Rep Andy Harris, Chairman of the Energy and Environment Subcommittee of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology: MS Word or PDF.
  • Full story: WatchDog of February 8, 2012.

January 27, 2012
SEJ Asks EPA To Return to Openness with Journalists

SEJ wrote to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, after a spate of unreturned phone calls and ignored emails, in an attempt to get the agency to resume quarterly conference calls to discuss access issues. The calls abruptly ended late last year after Adora Andy's departure from the agency. The letter also addressed the fact that "we continue to hear on an almost daily basis from SEJ members in a variety of news outlets that they get the run-around when trying to schedule interviews, gather basic information, or get answers to important questions for their stories. While it’s clear to us that members of the major, national media organizations have quality access to you and to top EPA insiders, our members who are working for small newspapers and radio stations or toiling away as freelancers are hit with repeated hurdles when they try to do their jobs."

September 2, 2011
SEJ Calls for Improvement to EPA Science Policy

SEJ submitted formal comments to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on its draft Scientific Integrity Policy, dated Aug. 5, 2011. The letter stated "SEJ finds the proposed policy lacking in a number of important areas. It also falls short of what is needed to achieve EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson’s previously stated goal for transparency that 'promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their government is doing.'"

August 19, 2011
SEJ Comments on "Unacceptable" NOAA Science Policy

In formal comments, SEJ stated that the section of NOAA guidance policy requiring advance public affairs approval of media interviews — and minders sitting in on those interviews — thwarts open communication between scientists and reporters, which is "unacceptable in a free society."

June 29, 2010
SEJ Urges NRC To Improve Openess

SEJ made some cogent suggestions to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission as part of an open-government exercise. One of the first suggestions was that NRC should lose the "minders" that babysit agency people while they talk to reporters. SEJ also asked that the NRC's press operation to do its job: keeping reporters and the public apprised of real news.

June 4, 2010
SEJ Writes USCG About Media Access on Gulf Coast

Following the Deep Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, SEJ sent a letter to U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen expressing deep concern that "journalists are being prevented from doing their Constitutionally protected jobs: to provide information to the public about the mammoth oil disaster playing out on the Gulf Coast."

March 24, 2010
SEJ Comments on How To Make EPA More Open

SEJ has urged the US Environmental Protection Agency to open up its press-relations procedures and abandon Bush-era restrictions as a way of furthering President Obama's declared open-government goals. Under his "Open Government Initiative," President Obama ordered federal agencies to establish open-government web pages where agencies could solicit public input on how to improve openness. EPA solicits comments on its OpenGov page and OpenEPA/Share Your Ideas. SEJ, on behalf of its member environmental journalists, offered eight suggestions.

March 19, 2010
SEJ Urges Congress to Pass "Faster FOIA" Bill

SEJ wrote Congressional leaders expressing support for the bipartisan "Faster FOIA" bill introduced this week. The bill (S 3111) would establish an advisory panel to examine agency backlogs in processing FOIA requests — and make recommendations for faster processing and reduced backlogs. It was introduced by Sens. Patrick J. Leahy (D-VT) and John Cornyn (R-TX).

February 24, 2010
SEJ Urges White House To Lose the "Minders"

SEJ wrote White House Communication Director Dan Pfeiffer asking for an end to the practice of requiring permission from the press office at federal agencies before reporters can talk to federal employees — and requiring Saddam-style PIO "minders" to sit in on interviews. More than a dozen other journalism groups have complained about the practice to the FDA and other agencies.