SPJ opposes restrictions on speech that could worsen a pandemic

The Society of Professional Journalists released the following statement regarding a recently passed resolution:

The Society of Professional Journalists said in a resolution passed Saturday that it believes the controls on employee speech by government agencies have led to severe limitations on public scrutiny of those entities and to a higher COVID-19 death toll.

SPJ cited the blockage and delays of reporters by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as particularly tragic, noting also the censorship in its daughter agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health.

For many years, a number of agencies have banned employees from speaking to reporters without notifying authorities, often through the agency public information offices.

The forced oversight leads to intimidation of spokespersons within agencies. Beyond that, excessive delays and total blockages often prevent reporters from speaking to people at all.

In a session at the SPJ2020 Journalism Conference this past weekend, Donald G. McNeil, Jr., a science and health reporter for The New York Times, decried the current situation at CDC and HHS, saying, “It’s a horrible experience for a journalist trying to get life-saving information out of your own government.”

SPJ has led several coalition efforts opposing these controls over six years.

The Society’s 83 delegates passed the resolution Saturday during the Business Meeting at SPJ2020 as part of a package of resolutions in support of journalism.

Read the full resolution here.