OIF Condemns Government Agency Censorship
By: James LaRue
The American Library Association (ALA) has as one of its officially stated goals that it is the leading advocate for the public’s right to a free and open information society (Policy A.1.3). ALA opposes any use of governmental power to suppress the free and open exchange of knowledge and information (Policy B.8.5.1). Indeed, the principle of intellectual freedom – unfettered access to knowledge – is a core belief of our profession, as captured in the Library Bill of Rights.
Amidst reports of the Trump administration’s attempts to order media blackouts of federal agencies, it’s important that we resist any attempt to use the power of government to stifle the very agencies charged, like libraries, with the dissemination of information.
To take just one prominent example, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) not only dedicates itself to the mission to protect human health and the environment, but also to ensure that “all parts of society — communities, individuals, businesses, and state, local and tribal governments — have access to accurate information sufficient to effectively participate in managing human health and environmental risks.”
In his Jan. 20, 2017 inaugural address, President Trump said, “We are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the American People.” On the second day of his administration, however, Doug Ericksen, the head of communications for the Trump administration’s EPA transition team, gave a very different message during an NPR interview: Scientists at the EPA who want to publish or present their scientific findings will apparently need to have their work reviewed before it can be disseminated. He doesn’t mean “by other scientists.”
“We’ll take a look at what’s happening so that the voice coming from the EPA is one that’s going to reflect the new administration,” Ericksen said.
The EPA’s Scientific Integrity Policy states, “Science is the backbone of the EPA’s decision-making. The Agency’s ability to pursue its mission to protect human health and the environment depends upon the integrity of the science on which it relies.” Moreover, the policy seeks to ensure that “the Agency’s scientific work is of the highest quality, free from political interference or personal motivations.”
To restrict citizens’ access to information essential to their health because it fails to agree with the political viewpoint of a particular administration is blatant government censorship. Rather than returning power to the American people, such strategies endanger us.
The Office for Intellectual Freedom strongly condemns this heavy-handed attempt to silence the scientific community. The people pay for the EPA, and are entitled to hear from it, unfiltered by the biases of the current administration.
I appreciate that you guys got this out quickly. Well done and well said.
Trump’s attempts to silence those in the government (i.e. The National Park Service or EPA) is very troubling and treads very closely on denying our right to free speak. Thank you for this article! At least he can’t silence us all!
If the American people wanted censorship we would move to a country that does that.
Thanks, Jessamyn. But I want to respond to the question everyone has next: now what? There are at least three answers: (1) join or donate to the Freedom to Read Foundation (ftrf.org). It exists to fight legal battles on behalf of the First Amendment and Intellectual Freedom. (2) Make sure you report the challenges occurring in your our libraries (via our new online challenge form). We need facts and stories to continue the fight. (3) educate yourself on good advocacy. I don’t just mean the Advocacy/IF bootcamps we offer (although that’s a good start), I mean pick up the phone and call your legislators about the issues you care about.
Why doesnt ALA also advocate for opposing viewpoints to Climate change? There do exist you know. Your partisanship is showing.
Have previous, incoming new administrations done something like this when they took office? Reagan, bush, clinton, Obama? Or is this the first time ever?
Rob, ALA advocates the presence of all viewpoints on public issues in libraries along with their dissemination on government websites and in the media. In this specific case we are strenuously objecting to the suppression of part of that spectrum of views that this administration finds objectionable. Big difference.
Laurie, according to an article from the NY Times, this is not the first time an incoming President has ordered something like this, but some feel these orders are targeting certain agencies, rather than giving the same order across the board for an administrative adjustment. I’ve linked the article here, which shows varying viewpoints. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/25/us/politics/some-agencies-told-to-halt-communications-as-trump-administration-moves-in.html
Other administrations have worked on standardizing strategies of information dissemination, but they haven’t put scientists on notice. I am glad the OIF has taken a strong position. I believe the removal of valid information from government web sites is censorship, a violation of the First Amendment, and can be taken up in court. If you need someone with standing to file, let me know.
I read this today on NYT facebook post after seeing how people were upset about EPA. Most new administrations do this to update information with new Cabinet head, etc. Carter was mentiined as democrat to do it for any length of time to update policy. Further reading shows how some want to stop giving thousands of dollats to universities or churches, etc to stop frivolous studies, such as can barbecuing in your backyard harm you. Others are stranger than that. Those are places where cuts are suggested. Not on our dependence on the good things the EPA does for us. Nothing I read sounded detrimental to saving the EPA. Thankfully.
How about adding an oif.ala line and making the graphic available on t-shirts, stickers, etc. Or giving permission to use it with attribution.
Will there be a lawsuit from ALA?
There is no lawsuit at present. But we will certainly be watching to see who does have standing, and could demonstrate damages. Such cases are all about the details.
Great idea about the T-shirt!
I’m not a lawyer so the verbiage in the Freedom of Information Act confuses me, do these actions violate that act?
As I understand it, the Freedom of Information Act is more about the right of the people to inquire about the communications to and from public agencies. It doesn’t establish requirements for what those agencies must say.
But I’ll happily take corrections from those who may be better informed.
What seems to be the case is that the President is leading the media along the lines of what he hopes to be building of character and integrity by not misconstruing the facts or misleading truths to one side or the other by enacting a policy of the media to only convey what is universal. We may not see eye to eye on this matter, but the media covers a lot of material and if the media is coined as only several popular television stations, brands of newspapers in a multitude of national cities, and what rest to be remained, then I think there is a bigger problem here than some phony tabloids and some botched photos with some misunderstood headlines. We are in an age of 21st century information where millions (at least) of websites, newspapers, apps, magazines, books, tv shows, etc. are read and viewed every day. To try to put a hold on a bull by those horns is sure to be poked; indefinitely.
Thank you for your thoughtful reply, Michael. I appreciate having my thoughts challenged, but I stand with the OIF. Censorship – and that’s what this is – is never a good policy. Now we will have stories leaking out that are neither fact checked nor consistent. We have learned throughout history that information, like the air around us, simply cannot be contained. This is especially true in our information age. Better that it go out through established channels from the beginning. The distortions undoubtedly will follow, but at least an official position will be documented.
Jeanine, you explained how I meant initially, and maybe that is how I was misread by what I meant by “universal”. Trump is, I think, is trying to get everyone to fact check, as you stated before they publish everything. By what I meant by universal, is by universal truths that everyone is on the same page and all the facts are straight. I took a philosophical approach by what I said and maybe took a too far leap with that statement and apologize for the improper semantical argument, but thanks for explaining your side. I hope I was able to correct my viewpoint, so that others don’t misread any further. Thanks!
And the reason why I say Trump is trying to fact check instead of censor is because CNN used an example of attendance of the inaugural celebration where even the White House Press Secretary was giving incorrect statistics, which just goes to show the improper delivery of misinformation at the highest level. I haven’t heard anywhere else where he is trying to blackout media, but CNN News is where I heard this coverage.
Excellent. Now repackage this for sharing beyond the library world, where it’s most needed. This would make an excellent Medium post https://medium.com/
Also consider press releases to major news outlets.
Agreed, this would make a great shareable Medium post.
The saying, “knowledge is power”, couldn’t be further from the truth and that is one thing they want to keep from the public. They know the more knowledge the public has, the more power they have over the government. Thanks to the OIF for keeping the government from trying to implement these outrageous censorship.