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."
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SEJ and five other journalism groups sent a letter July 8, 2014 objecting to a bill up for debate on the US Senate floor this week that could restrict the ability of journalists to report on stories in National Parks, National Forests and other public lands. Photo: Fern Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. Courtesy U.S. NPS.Region:
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.
Some of the eye-rolling was chronicled in a May 1, 2014, post in the blog Mediaite. It quoted New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson calling the Obama administration "the most secretive White House I have ever dealt with." The story came out just a couple of days before the White House Correspondents' Association dinner.
For years, under multiple administrations, White House officials have subverted open government by holding illegal "ex parte" meetings with special interests affected by agency rulemakings. The meetings are still secret but now they have made the existing online database of meetings and calls searchable by agency, sub-agency, date range, stage of rulemaking, and regulatory identifier. The catch? You can only search for meetings that happened AFTER April 1, 2014.
An extensive Associated Press analysis of Freedom of Information Act performance, based on legally required FOIA reports and statistics, was just one of many this week. Other Sunshine Week coverage also tried to take a broad view of how the federal government was doing on the openness front. Spoiler alert: not so good.
Some major U.S. journalism organizations are increasingly fed up with federal public affairs offices acting "more like prison guards than gate-keepers." The latest outbreak of frustration was at a March 19, 2014, panel discussion at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. Read comments by panelists — who agreed that the situation would not get better without organized and creative pushback from journalists.
Journalism and open-government groups will mount a host of special projects and forums March 16-22, 2014, to pry loose the secrets of a government that is supposed to be accountable to the public. Here are some key links and events.Topics on the Beat:
Don't polish your glasses — you read it right. Bipartisan. By a vote of 410-0. The bill makes several modest improvements in the Freedom of Information Act; it should strengthen the presumption in favor of disclosure of government records, authorize a central tracking system for FOIA requests and strengthen the role of the Office of Government Information Services.
Drones might count as new media — and certainly have journalistic uses in covering everything from prairie fires to chemical emergencies. The federal government, which devotes enormous technical resources to spying on its citizens, now says this is illegal. The Federal Aviation Administration issued the ruling, saying there was no grey area: hobbyists can legally fly video drones. But journalists can not. Image: Cade Cleavelin, a science/ag journalism senior at U of Missouri, demonstrates a DJY Phantom quadcopter at the 2013 SEJ Conference in Chattanooga, TN. © Roger Archibald.