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).
August 6, 2020
SEJ Joins RCFP Amicus Brief — Denson v. Donald J. Trump for President, Inc.
SEJ joined with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 15 media organizations in support of Jessica Denson, a former staffer for Donald J. Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, who filed a class-action lawsuit against the campaign to nullify the nondisclosure agreement each staffer was required to sign. The amicus brief posits that the district court should grant summary judgment to the current and former Trump campaign staffers who have signed the challenged nondisclosure agreement and hold that the nondisclosure agreement is void and unenforceable.
- Download the Denson v. Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. amicus brief (PDF).
- Aug 6, 2020, RCFP release.
August 3, 2020
SEJ Joins RCFP Amicus Brief — U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service v. Sierra Club
SEJ joined with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 27 other media organizations intervening in a court argument over overuse of the "deliberative process" exemption to the Freedom of Information Act. The underlying case concerns science agency advice to the Environmental Protection Agency over possibly harmful effects of utility cooling water. Environmental groups won their case on appeal, and it is now before the U.S. Supreme Court. A coalition of journalism groups, led by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, filed an amicus brief Aug. 3 supporting rejection of the "deliberative" exemption in this case — and release of the information.
- Download the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service v. Sierra Club amicus brief (PDF).
- Aug 3, 2020, RCFP release.
July 31, 2020
SEJ Joins RCFP Amicus Brief — Lokhova v. Halper
SEJ joined with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 29 media organizations in filing an amicus brief in support of Stefan Halper, an American foreign policy scholar and senior fellow at the University of Cambridge. Svetlana Lokhova, a Russian-born graduate student, filed a defamation lawsuit against The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post and NBCUniversal, saying the news organizations defamed her when they reported on a 2014 dinner at the University of Cambridge, at which General Michael Flynn, who was then director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, met Lokhova but failed to notify officials of that interaction. Lokhova claims that Halper worked with U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies to orchestrate the news organizations' coverage of her encounter with Flynn. Most of her claims were dismissed because they were filed after the one-year statute of limitations had expired. Lokhova appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, arguing that several of her defamation claims are within the statute of limitations because the original publishers and third parties hyperlinked to or retweeted the allegedly defamatory articles within the statute of limitations period. The amicus brief posits that the Fourth Circuit should reject Lokhova's republication theory and affirm the district court’s dismissal of the majority of her claims as time-barred.
July 23, 2020
SEJ Joins RCFP Amicus Brief — Committee to Protect Journalists v. CIA
SEJ joined with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 31 other media organizations in filing an amicus brief in support of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). In 2018, CPJ submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to five federal agencies related to the Saudi Arabian government’s execution of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. All but the State department invoked the "Glomar" doctrine, claiming that acknowledging the existence or non-existence of documents responsive to the requests would compromise national security. The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia upheld the Glomar responses, granting summary judgment for the government. CPJ appealed. The amicus brief posits that the D.C. Circuit should reverse the district court’s decision that the intelligence agencies adequately justified their Glomar responses to the FOIA requests.
- Download the Committee to Protect Journalists v. CIA amicus brief (PDF).
- July 23, 2020, RCFP release.
July 8, 2020
SEJ Joins RCFP Amicus Brief — Van Buren v. United States
SEJ joined with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 40 other media organizations in filing an amicus brief in support of Nathan Van Buren, a Georgia police officer who allegedly used his credentials to access confidential information from a state criminal database in exchange for a private loan. He was charged with one count of honest-services wire fraud and one count of violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act for “exceeding authorized access” to a computer. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit upheld his original conviction, adopting an expansive construction of the CFAA that threatens to chill First Amendment activity. The U.S. Supreme Court granted Van Buren’s appeal in April and he has since filed his opening brief. The amicus brief posits that the Supreme Court should reverse the appeals court’s decision and adopt a narrower interpretation of the CFAA to avoid constitutional concerns.
July 6, 2020
SEJ Joins RCFP Amicus Brief — Courthouse News Service v. Schaefer
SEJ joined with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 27 other media organizations in filing an amicus brief in support of Courthouse News Service, which filed a lawsuit against two Virginia circuit courts after their clerks began delaying access to newly filed civil complaints in 2018. The filing delays prevented the legal news service and other news organizations from reporting on litigation in a timely fashion. In January 2020, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia ruled in favor of CNS, holding that the clerks deprived the news service of its First Amendment right to contemporaneously access newly filed civil complaints. The clerks have appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. The amicus brief posits that the district court’s judgment should be affirmed.
June 30, 2020
SEJ Joins RCFP Amicus Brief — Cato Institute v. SEC
SEJ joined with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 13 other media organizations in filing an amicus brief in support of the Cato Institute, which filed a lawsuit challenging the SEC's gag order preventing companies and individuals that reach settlements with the agency from publicly denying them, including when speaking with members of the press. The complaint was dismissed and Cato appealed. The amicus brief posits that the D.C. Circuit should vacate the district court’s decision.
June 16, 2020
SEJ Denounces Denver Police Attacks on Journalists
SEJ joined with the Reporters Committe for Freedom of the Press and 39 other media and press freedom organizations in sending a letter to Denver officials denouncing police attacks on credentialed journalists in Denver, Colorado, and calling for education of law enforcement about their legal obligation to protect members of the press.
- Download the June 16, 2020, letter from the media/press freedom organizations to Denver’s mayor, police chief and public safety director (PDF).
- June 16, 2020, RCFP release.
June 10, 2020
SEJ Calls On Governors To Protect Journalists Covering Protests
SEJ joined with PEN America, the Committee to Protect Journalists and 44 other press freedom organizations and experts in sending letters to each U.S. governor, as well as the mayor of Washington, D.C. The letters called on all leaders to uphold press freedom and ensure law enforcement is accountable for recent actions against journalists covering protests. Further, the letters urged the state leaders to publicly affirm the right of journalists and citizens to record police in public places as they carry out their official duties; to exclude the media from curfews; and to provide greater transparency from state officials regarding threats or attacks on journalists throughout the state.
- PEN America release of June 11, 2020.
- 51 letters sent to the state governors and mayor of Washington, D.C.
June 9, 2020
SEJ Stands With Journalists of Color Speaking Out About Systemic Racism
SEJ stands with journalists of color who are shedding light on systemic racism, inequities, and discrimination inside and outside of the newsroom. We condemn violence against people who are peacefully protesting police killings of Black people, and violence against journalists reporting on them. We condemn the silencing of Black voices in any newsroom, as well as voices from other underrepresented communities.
June 8, 2020
SEJ Joins RCFP Amicus Brief — Gibson Bros, Inc. v. Oberlin College
SEJ joined with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 21 media and other organizations in filing an amicus brief in support of Oberlin College. In 2016, students there protested after an altercation at Gibson’s Bakery between three Black students and a white employee of the family run shop. In 2017, the bakery and two of its owners filed a libel lawsuit against Oberlin College and its vice president, arguing, among other things, that they defamed the bakery by distributing a protest flyer and Student Senate resolution. Defendants were found guilty of defamation based on the court's findings that they acted negligently, awarding the bakery and its owners a total of $44 million in compensatory and punitive damages. Oberlin appealed. The amicus brief posits that the appeals court should reverse the jury’s verdict, and should clarify that the “actual malice” standard of fault applies in defamation actions against redistributors in order to ensure that defamation suits do not inhibit the First Amendment protected redistribution of speech by news outlets, booksellers, and libraries.
- Download the Gibson Bros, Inc. v. Oberlin College amicus brief (PDF).
- June 8, 2020, RCFP release.
- June 14, 2020 coverage in The (Elyria, Ohio) Chronicle Telegram.
June 8, 2020
SEJ Joins RCFP Amicus Brief — Jones v. Professional Background Screening Association
SEJ joined with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 23 other media organizations in filing an amicus brief in support of nonprofit PBSA's efforts to obtain “all court records” related to a specific individual that the company wished to screen. As journalists rely on criminal court documents, the amicus brief posits that the Supreme Court of Arkansas should affirm the trial court’s entry of partial summary judgment for PBSA and reverse the trial court’s entry of partial summary judgment for the court clerk (Jones).
- Download the Jones v. Professional Background Screening Association amicus brief (PDF).
- June 8, 2020, RCFP release.
June 6, 2020
SEJ Denounces NY Police Attacks on Journalists
SEJ joined with the Reporters Committe for Freedom of the Press and 120 other media and press freedom organizations in sending a letter to New York officials requesting they "take immediate, concrete steps to end the series of police arrests and attacks on credentialed and clearly identifiable journalists in New York City" covering protests that began after a white police officer killed George Floyd, a Black man, in Minneapolis on May 25.
- Download the June 6, 2020, letter from the media/press freedom organizations to NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner Dermot F. Shea (PDF).
- June 6, 2020 response from the NYC mayor's office confirmed receipt of the group's letter and included this statement: "For your awareness, officers have been informed that journalists are exempt from the curfew and within their legal rights to be at protests documenting what they see. Further, journalists should not be subject to any arrests."
- June 7, 2020, RCFP release.
June 5, 2020
SEJ Joins RCFP Amicus Brief — Philadelphia Bail Fund v. Arraignment Court Magistrate Judges
SEJ joined with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 13 other media organizations in filing an amicus brief in support of nonprofit Philadelphia Bail Fund which filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of certain Pennsylvania court rules that prevent the public, including the news media, from making audio recordings of bail hearings. Judgement went to the nonprofit, then was appealed by the magistrates. The amicus brief posits that the Third Circuit should affirm the district court’s ruling that the Philadelphia Bail Fund has the right to record bail hearings.
- Download the Philadelphia Bail Fund v. Arraignment Court Magistrate Judges amicus brief (PDF).
- June 5, 2020, RCFP release.
June 3, 2020
SEJ Comments on OMB's Proposed FOI Fee Schedule
SEJ joined with the Reporters Committe for Freedom of the Press and 16 other media organizations in submitting comments to the Office of Management and Budget on proposed revisions to the Uniform Freedom of Information Act Fee Schedule and Guidelines. The comments address two issues: 1) the elimination of a definition of “representative of the news media,” (thereby affecting who can apply for a fee waiver) and 2) the addition of a statement that the Guidelines do not address the reduction or waiver of fees under FOIA.
- Download the June 3, 2020, comments submitted to OMB by the media groups (PDF).
June 3, 2020
SEJ Joins RCFP Amicus Brief — Animal Legal Defense Fund v. Vaught
SEJ joined with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 22 other media organizations in filing an amicus brief in support of four animal and human rights organizations which challenged the constitutionality of an Arkansas ag-gag law, filing a federal lawsuit against Peco Foods and the operators of Prayer Creek Farms. The defendants won a motion to dismiss the complaint. The amicus brief posits that the Eighth Circuit should hold that the plaintiffs have standing to challenge Arkansas’ unconstitutional ag-gag law.
June 2, 2020
SEJ Demands Minnesota Officials Stop Police Attacks on Journalists
SEJ joined with the Reporters Committe for Freedom of the Press and more than 100 media and press freedom organizations in sending a letter to Minnesota officials demanding that police immediately stop attacking journalists covering protests that began after a Minneapolis police officer (a white man) killed George Floyd (a Black man), on May 25. The letter stresses that law enforcement is not immune from the law when officers violate First Amendment rights. The letter was sent to Minnesota officials; however, the legal rules outlined therein are applicable to jurisdictions throughout the U.S.
- Download the June 2, 2020, letter from the media/press freedom organizations to Minnesota officals (PDF).
- June 2, 2020, RCFP release.
May 31, 2020
SEJ Speaks Out Against Police Assaults on Journalists
There have been multiple incidents over the last few days of police spraying tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets at journalists covering demonstrations and unrest sparked by the death of George Floyd, who died in police custody in Minneapolis last week. These assaults represent an attack on the freedoms to which all Americans are entitled under the U.S. Constitution. SEJ calls on all law enforcement officers and agencies to respect journalists’ First Amendment right to cover the demonstrations as well as police conduct. The people have a right to know, more than ever before, during this critical time. Read more.
May 13, 2020
SEJ Joins RCFP Amicus Brief — Perry v. Hollingsworth
SEJ joined with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 35 other media organizations in filing an amicus brief in support of plaintiff Kristin M. Perry et al seeking release of the 2010 video recordings of the historic Proposition 8 case, a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Video recordings of the 12-day bench trial were entered into the record but filed under seal. In 2017, public radio and television station KQED filed a motion with the district court to unseal the video recordings. The court ruled the recordings should be kept under seal until Aug. 12, 2020. On April 1, 2020, the proponents filed a motion to continue the seal on the video recordings permanently. KQED opposed the motion. The amicus brief posits that the district court must deny the proponent’s motion to continue the seal and release the video recordings on Aug. 12, 2020.
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.
- Download the Center on Privacy and Technology v. New York City Police Department amicus brief (PDF).
- May 12, 2020, RCFP release.
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.
- Download the Husch Blackwell v. Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority amicus brief (PDF).
- May 12, 2020, RCFP release.
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.
- Download the application for leave to intervene in Biancardi v. Italy (PDF).
- April 22, 2020, RCFP release.
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."
- March 23, 2020: The 11th Circuit denied the motion for leave to file an amicus brief in Parekh v. CBS, citing Rule 29(a)(2) ("[A] court of appeals may prohibit the filing of or may strike an amicus brief that would result in a judge's disqualification.")
- June 19, 2020: The 11th Circuit issued its opinion in Parekh v. CBS, affirming the dismissal of the plaintiff's case and awarding fees under Florida's anti-SLAPP statute.
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.
- Text of SEJ's January 30, 2020, letter to US State Secretary Pompeo.
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.
- Text of SEJ's January 22, 2020, letter to the Indonesian ambassador and US State officials.
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.
- Text of January 16, 2020, letter to Senators Mitch McConnell and Charles Schumer from the 58 media organizations.
- January 17, 2020, RCFP release.
December 19, 2019
SEJ Joins RCFP Amicus Brief — Perlman v. Vox Media, Inc.
SEJ joined with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 22 other journalism groups in filing an amicus brief in support of Vox Media after Perlman filed a defamation lawsuit for hyperlinks and accompanying descriptions for 2012 stories that were included in a subsequent 2014 article, claiming this republished the earlier stories. The amicus brief posits that the court should reject the plaintiff's republication theory as 1) Perlman's claims are time-barred under the single-publication rule and 2) a republication rule that deters hyperlinking would deprive internet users of an essential tool for understanding information online.
- Download the Perlman v. Vox Media amicus brief (PDF).
- December 19, RCFP release.
- Update: On June 24, 2020, the Superior Court of the State of Delaware granted Vox's motion for summary judgment. The court held that claims based on 2012 articles were time-barred and that a 2014 article did not republish the 2012 articles, as was argued in the groups' brief.
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.
- November 6, 2019, letter to members of Congress from the 29 journalism groups.
- Society of Professional Journalists release of November 6, 2019.
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."
- Download the October 3, 2019 SCOTUS live audio request letter (PDF).
- October 3, 2019, RCFP release.
- October 3, 2019, response from Kathleen Arberg, public information officer for the U.S. Supreme Court, denying the media coalition's request.
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:
- 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;
- 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;
- The statute is an unconstitutional content-based restriction on speech subject to strict scrutiny; and
- 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)."
- Text of SEJ's June 26, 2019 letter to U.S. EPA Administrator Wheeler.
- June 27, 2019 EPA release in response to SEJ's letter.
- June 28, 2019 Politico "Morning Energy" newsletter citing EPA's response to SEJ's letter ("Around the Agencies" section).
- Text of SEJ's July 9, 2019 letter to EPA's Elise Packard, Deputy General Counsel for Operations, and Timothy Epp, Acting Director, National FOIA Office, responding to EPA's June 27 release.
- July 9, 2019 RCFP/News Media Coalition letter, which SEJ signed on to along with 37 other news media organizations, to Christopher T. Creech, Office of General Counsel, U.S. EPA.
- July 12, 2019, RCFP release.
Coverage of the FOIA rule issue:
- "EPA blames advisory board for controversial changes to FOIA policy," The Hill, October 31, 2019, by Miranda Green.
- "Green groups sue EPA over 'sweeping overhaul' of public records policy," The Hill, July 24, 2019, by Miranda Green.
- "NOTEBOOK: Grassley blasts EPA for new secrecy move," Business Record, July 23, 2019, by Perry Beeman.
- "Bipartisan senators fight 'political considerations' in EPA's new FOIA rule," The Hill, July 22, 2019, by Rebecca Beitsch.
- "More lawyers, politics involved with EPA FOIA requests," Brunswick News, July 16, 2019, by Wes Wolfe.
- "The environment for reporters covering EPA just got a lot more toxic," The Washington Post, July 12, 2019, by Paul Farhi.
- "Press, green groups urge delay for FOIA regs," Greenwire, July 10, 2019, by (subscription required).
- "Pressure mounts against EPA's new FOIA rule," The Hill, July 10, 2019, by Miranda Green.
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.
- Read more here.
- Download the ACLU et al amicus brief (PDF).
- Download the Washington Post amicus brief (PDF).
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.
- October 18, 2018 response from Michael Nadler, Acting Chief Executive Officer of Parks Canada
- SEJ's September 26, 2018 letter to Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change
- SEJ's September 26, 2018 letter to Michael Nadler, Interim CEO, Parks Canada Agency
- SEJ's September 26, 2018 letter to Daniel Watson, CEO, Parks Canada Agency
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.
- Text of the July 25, 2017, letter to Senate Sergeant at Arms Frank Larkin and U.S. Capitol Police Chief Matthew Verderosa.
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.
- "Groups Decry Charges Against Standing Rock Journalists," SEJ, March 2, 2017.
- Text of the March 2, 2017, letter to Allen Koppy, Morton County State’s Attorney; Kyle Kirchmeier, Morton County Sheriff; and Wayne Stenehjem, North Dakota Attorney General.
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.
- "News Media Hamstrung at FERC 'Listening Session.' SEJ Objects." SEJ, February 23, 2017.
- Text of the February 23, 2017, letter to the FERC officials.
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.
- Text of the January 18, 2017, letter to President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence.
- See also: SEJ WatchDog of January 24, 2017.
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.
- Text of the SEJ's December 13, 2016, letter to the CPB and DHS officials.
- Response from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, January 4, 2017.
- See also: SEJ WatchDog of December 20, 2016.
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.
- Text of the SEJ's October 19, 2016, letter to the law enforcement officials.
- See also: SEJ WatchDog of October 26, 2016 (includes response from the prosecutor who charged Amy Goodman, Ladd Erickson of McLean County).
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.
- Text of the SEJ's November 18, 2015, letter to the U.S. Committee on Energy & Natural Resources.
- See also: SEJ story of November 19, 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.
- Text of journalism groups' August 10, 2015, letter to President Obama.
- "More Than 50 Journalism Groups Again Urge President Obama To Stop Excessive Controls on Public Information," Society of Professional Journalists release, Aug 11, 2015.
- See also: SEJ WatchDog of Aug 12, 2015.
- "Sentinel Editor Joins in Pressing Obama on Transparency," TucsonSentinel.com, Aug 11, 2015, by Dylan Smith.
- "Obama Falls Short of Promise for Transparency, Journalists Say," Bloomberg News, Aug 12, 2015, by Justin Sink.
- "Obama Must Stop Excessive Media Control," The Rock River Times, Aug 12, 2015, by Shane Nicholson.
- "EPA Press Office Blockades Protested," Watchdog Earth blog (The Courier Journal), Aug 13, 2015, by James Bruggers.
- "President Obama Asked for More Transparency in Government," Sun Investigates blog (The Baltimore Sun), Aug 15, 2015, by Catherine Rentz.
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.
- Text of the SEJ's June 30, 2015, letter to SONS communications strategy drafters.
- See also: SEJ WatchDog of July 1, 2015.
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.
- Text of the SEJ's April 2, 2015, FOIA appeal letter.
- See also: SEJ WatchDog of April 2, 2015.
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.
- Text of the group's February 4, 2015, letter to Fairfax Co. Park Authority.
- See also: SEJ WatchDog of February 11, 2015.
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.
- Text of coalition comments submitted to USFS December 3, 2014.
- See also: SEJ WatchDog of December 3, 2014.
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.
- Text of the groups' October 1, 2014, letter.
- See also: SEJ WatchDogs of October 2, 2014, September 26, 2014 and September 24, 2014.
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."
- Text of the August 12, 2014, letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.
- Memo of April 4, 2014, from EPA Chief of Staff Gwendolyn Keyes Fleming to Science Advisory Board Director and Chairman.
- See also: SEJ WatchDogs of August 13, 2014 and August 27, 2014 (includes text of August 15 email from EPA Chief of Staff Gwendolyn Keyes Fleming in response to the August 12, 2014 group letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy).
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."
- Text of the July 8, 2014, letter to President Barack Obama from the 38 journalism groups.
- See also: SEJ WatchDogs of July 17, 2014, August 13, 2014 (includes links to the White House's "non-response" response finally received August 11th, following the group's Aug 5 follow-up letter, plus SPJ's response thereto).
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.
- Text of SEJ's June 5, 2014, letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.
- Text of EPA's June 10 response to SEJ's letter.
- See also: SEJ WatchDog of June 11, 2014.
- Text of SEJ's June 12 reply to EPA's June 10 justification of its "no attribution" press phone briefing on June 2.
- "Journalists to EPA: No More Anonymous Conference Calls," Washington Free Beacon, June 10, 2014 by CJ Ciaramella.
- "Green Journos Seeing Red Over EPA’s Climate Rule Roll-Out," The Daily Caller, June 10, 2014 by Michael Bastasch.
- "The EPA goes on background, and journalists revolt," The Observatory blog, Columbia Journalism Review, June 12, 2014, by Alexis Sobel Fitts.
- "Stunned by press rules for powerplant regs briefing, Soc'y of Enviro Journalists tells EPA to cut it out," Tracker blog, Knight Science Journalism Program at MIT, June 12, 2014 by Charlie Petit.
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.
- Text of SEJ's April 9, 2014, letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
- See also: SEJ WatchDogs of April 8 and April 16, 2014.
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.
- Text of SEJ's April 8, 2014, letter to Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance W. Gainer and others.
- See also: SEJ WatchDog of April 2, 2014.
- "Capitol Officials Call Reporter's Detention 'Isolated', Apologize," SEJ WatchDog, April 16, 2014. Apologies were received from both Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terry Gainer and Capitol Police Chief Kim C. Dine in separate e-mail responses.
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.
- "Open Agency? Who's Running EPA?" Society of Environmental Journalists, March 18, 2014, by Beth Parke and Joseph A. Davis.
- See also: SEJ WatchDog of March 21, 2014.
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.
- "SEJ, SPJ Say Agency Media Obstacles Hurt Public Confidence in Water, Safety," Society of Environmental Journalists, January 21, 2014. This article includes a link to the full text of SEJ's January 20 letter to EPA and CDC.
- See also: SEJ WatchDog of January 22, 2014.
- "CDC, EPA Respond to SEJ Complaints about Press Office Obstacles," WatchDog TipSheet, February 5, 2014.
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."
- Text of August 7, 2013, SEJ letter to California Highway Patrol Commissioner Joseph A. Farrow.
- See also: SEJ WatchDog of August 14, 2013.
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.
- Text of May 14, 2013, SEJ letter to DOJ Attorney General Eric Holder (includes links to AP story, AP letter to Holder, full text of SEJ letter to Holder, RCFP media coalition letter to Holder, the story that started it all, and more).
- See also: SEJ WatchDog of May 22, 2013.
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.
- Text of April 9, 2013, SEJ letter to EPA, PHMSA, local officials.
- Text of SEJ's response from the U.S. EPA, April 12, 2013.
- WatchDog of April 10, 2013.
- "InsideClimate News Reporter Threatened with Arrest at Ark. Oil Spill Site," InsideClimate News, April 5, 2013, by Susan White. Addendum (last paragraph of story): "On Thursday afternoon, Vela met Song and gave her a tour of the command center parking lot. He also allowed her to take photos at the edge of a nearby cleanup site. They were accompanied by an ExxonMobil spokesman." However, they would not permit Song to visit the site of the rupture, or the subdivision where it occurred.
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.
- "Will New EPA Head Open Agency to News Media?" SEJ, April 9, 2013 (long version of statement).
- Text of April 9, 2013, SEJ Letter to EPW Senators (short version of statement).
- WatchDog of April 10, 2013.
- "Comment on SEJ Statement Regarding More EPA Openness by ex-EPA Chief of Public Affairs," April 16, 2013, by Patrick Boyle.
- Report on SEJ's April 25, 2013, Meeting with EPA Press Office.
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.
- Text of November 15, 2012, SEJ letter to U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
- "Buyer of Wild Horses Under Investigation by State, Feds," by Dave Philipps, Special to ProPublica, November 11, 2012.
- Audio of the Election Day incident, Colorado Springs Gazette, November 6, 2012.
- WatchDog of December 12, 2012.
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.
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.
- Text of June 19, 2012, SEJ letter to the sponsors of the subsidy-disclosure amendment.
- Full story: WatchDog of June 27, 2012.
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.
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."
- Text of January 27, 2012, SEJ letter to EPA: MS Word or PDF.
- Full story: WatchDog of February 8, 2012.
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.'"
- Text of September 2, 2011, SEJ Comments to EPA: MS Word or PDF.
- Full story: SEJ's September 8, 2011, WatchDog.
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."
- Text of August 19, 2011, SEJ Comments to NOAA: MS Word or plain text.
- Full story: SEJ's August 24, 2011, WatchDog.
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."
- Text of June 4, 2010, SEJ Letter to Admiral Allen.
- More on media access issues in SEJ's June 16, 2010, WatchDog.
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.
- Full story: SEJ WatchDog of March 24, 2010 (includes full text of SEJ's comments to EPA).
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).
- Text of March 15, 2010, SEJ Letter on S 3111.
- Leahy-Cornyn Release of March 15, 2010.
- Text of "Faster FOIA" Bill.
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.
- Text of SEJ Letter of February 24, 2010: Word document (original format, on SEJ letterhead) or plain text file.
- Full story: WatchDog of February 24, 2010.