May 24, 2018 - Updated on May 25, 2018

US – RSF denounces Environmental Protection Agency’s barring of news outlets from summit

Brendan Smialowski/AFP
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is troubled to learn the US Environmental Protection Agency barred several media outlets from attending a national summit on water contaminants this week. Denying media access to government-held meetings of national importance has serious consequences for press freedom.

At a May 22 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) summit to discuss chemicals that have contaminated water nationwide, news outlets AP, CNN, and E&E News, which specializes in environmental reporting, were told they were not invited and could not fit into the meeting. Regardless, when AP reporter Ellen Knickmeyer attempted to pass through a security checkpoint to get to the meeting, guards grabbed her and physically shoved her out of the building. EPA officials cited space constraints as their reason for preventing the publications’ attendance, although a reporter in the meeting said there were dozens of empty seats. The agency enforced a media ban for the second half of the meeting—escorting out reporters from the few news organizations that had been initially admitted—but the media ban was reversed after the AP reported on its journalist being forcibly removed from the building. All media outlets, including AP, CNN, and E&E News, were later let in for the afternoon portion of the summit.

The following day, the agency again restricted press access to the summit, this time banning reporters from news outlets Politico, E&E News and Crown Publishing, as well as a producer from CNN.

“Barring news outlets and using physical force to keep journalists from covering a meeting concerning the public’s access to clean water is unacceptable behavior from the executive branch," said Margaux Ewen, RSF’s North America Director. “A summit held to discuss an issue that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt himself calls a ‘national priority’ should under no circumstances be closed to the press, who must remain free to report information of public interest to those affected by it—the American people.”

Several of the publications barred from the event had recently published critical stories about the administrator’s agency, with CNN and AP each writing their respective pieces just last month. In an article published last week, Politico reported the EPA had tried to block the publication of a study into the nationwide water contamination “crisis” after an aide to President Donald Trump warned that it would be a “public relations nightmare.” At an announcement Pruitt made in April about his commitment to transparency, it was reported by multiple journalists that press had not been invited to attend. Earlier that month, he held an event with “limited press access” to which only Fox News was invited.

The United States ranks 45th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2018 World Press Freedom Index after falling 2 places in the last year.

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