Society of Professional Journalists asks Biden to end restrictions on agency personnel speaking to press

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The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) in a letter Tuesday asked President-elect Joe Biden to undo rules that constrain which federal agency personnel can speak directly to reporters, writing that it has amounted to “extreme censorship.”

In the letter, SPJ President Matthew T. Hall wrote that the rules had been “exacerbated under the Trump administration” and “literally threaten people’s lives.”

“SPJ believes the nation is suffering the consequences of these controls during the COVID-19 pandemic. Agencies that the public count on, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration, have stymied reporting for years,” the letter states. “Often, the press is not allowed in their facilities and reporters are prohibited from contacting staff without the authorities’ oversight; in reality, reporters are often not allowed to speak to anyone.”

The letter notes that trade organizations have expressed objections to such rules since at least 2015, when representatives of the coalition met with Obama administration officials and warned the rules could be devastating to transparency.

Hall also wrote that the suppression of such information could ensure the administration themselves never learn certain information.

“We must warn you about the same critical danger. There will be much you will not know about these closed agencies. Journalists understand that some information is legitimately confidential. That does not justify silencing staff on matters of public business,” he wrote. “We hope we can talk to you or members of your staff soon. Thank you for your attention.”

The Hill has reached out to the Biden transition team for comment.

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