The constraints that have grown up to stop journalists from speaking to people without notifying authorities are authoritarian, states a resolution passed by the Society of Professional Journalists September 7 (below or on the website).
The statement says journalists have a responsibility to fight the constraints.
“Journalists’ obligation to do all they can to seek the full truth includes fighting against barriers to understanding the full truth and reporting those barriers to the public,” says the statement passed by official delegates at the society’s meeting in San Antonio, Texas.
(Full disclosure: I drafted the resolution. It was sponsored by the SPJ Freedom of Information Committee.)
Information on the issue, including the seven surveys SPJ has sponsored, is on the society’s website about it: https://www.spj.org/pios.asp.
The new resolution says, “The public has a right to be dubious about information coming from public or private organizations where employees are silenced in terms of communicating to the press or where they cannot speak without guards.”
It calls for currently proposed legislation in Congress to ensure that all federal employees—not just scientists—be able to communicate with the press without reporting contacts to anyone.
In a 2017 resolution, the society said these practices are censorship and a grave risk to public welfare: https://www.spj.org/res2017.asp#2
Resolution No. 2Allowing Federal Employees to Freely Talk with the Press
Submitted by: SPJ Freedom of Information Committee
Delegate Action: Approved
WHEREAS the ability of people to speak to each other normally, without being pressured to report conversations to the authorities or to anyone, is essential to public welfare and democracy;
WHEREAS the Society of Professional Journalists has carefully studied and repeatedly decried the cultural norm that has grown up in many arenas of prohibiting employees and others from communicating with journalists without going through or reporting to a public information officer or other authority;
WHEREAS the prohibitions against communicating with journalists and the pressures to report contacts are authoritarian and prevent source people from explaining many things that are the public’s business and certainly interlace with other current pressures on speech to weaken society and create extraordinarily dangerous situations;
WHEREAS in a democracy, it is more appropriate for the public and the press to have oversight over the communications of people in power rather than the reverse;
WHEREAS proposed compromises that would allow reporters to communicate with whom they wish, but would still force employees or others to report contacts are dangerously intimidating to communication;
WHEREAS proposed compromises that would allow people in power to mandate reporting of contacts after they occur are also dangerously intimidating to communication;
WHEREAS such compromises are insidious because they often empower journalists to gather some information while being unaware of how much the source people speaking under this censorship will not mention;
WHEREAS in spite of journalistic skills, triumphs, prowess, breakthroughs and impressive stories and in spite of the fact some sources do leak, journalists cannot know what they miss when people are under pressure to not communicate or pressure to report contacts with journalists;
WHEREAS journalists’ obligation to do all they can to seek the full truth includes fighting against barriers to understanding the full truth and reporting those barriers to the public;
WHEREAS the public has a right to be dubious about information coming from public or private organizations where employees are silenced in terms of communicating to the press or where they cannot speak without guards;
WHEREAS the SPJ stresses to people in public and private leadership that these restrictions routinely hide information from the leaders themselves; from the professionals and others who focus on the subjects being discussed; and from the rest of the public; and
WHEREAS Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY) and Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) have introduced into Congress the Scientific Integrity Act (H.R. 1709 and S. 775) which has the intent of allowing federal scientists to speak to the media as well as publish scientific findings, participate in scientific organizations and communicate in other ways;
THEREFORE LET IT BE RESOLVED the Society of Professional Journalists, meeting in convention on September 7, 2019 in San Antonio, Texas calls on Rep. Tonko, Sen. Schatz and others in Congress to ensure any such legislation supports the right of unimpeded communication with journalists for all federal employees and not just for scientists;
LET IT BE FURTHER RESOLVED that any such legislation ensure that all federal employees have the right to communicate with the press without reporting contacts with the authorities or anyone, before or after the contacts; and that reporters making requests to an agency be able to speak to the requested persons and not be confined to spokespersons.
LET IT BE FURTHER RESOLVED that SPJ calls on Congress and the Executive Branch to complete a thorough examination on why free speech has become so undermined for millions of people that legislation is needed to allow free speech, without reporting to authorities and on what those restrictions do to the nation’s functioning.
LET IT BE FINALLY RESOLVED that SPJ calls on people in leadership in all arenas, including sports, education, police operations, state and local government, science and others, to work to eliminate these restrictions, because they create ignorance in all of us and induce corrosion that impacts everyone.