During the 35-day government shutdown that spanned last year’s Christmastime holidays, journalists searched for ways to humanize the impact of a month’s lost income on the families of federal employees. At every turn, they ran into the same obstacle: Federal employees had been told it was a punishable offense to talk to the media without permission.
CNBC quoted “Leo,” an IRS tax examiner from Ohio, about the hardship of going without money for his prescription medications, explaining that “Leo” could not be better identified “because he’s not permitted to speak about his job with the media.” A married couple, both furloughed from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, insisted on anonymity when discussing the furlough with NBC News, citing their agency’s prohibition against interviews.
Prohibiting government employees from sharing their candid observations isn’t just bad for journalism. It’s against the law.
Although the practice of gagging public employees from giving unapproved interviews is pervasive across all levels of government, decades’ worth of First Amendment caselaw demonstrates that blanket restrictions on speaking to the media are legally unenforceable.
In Michigan, for instance, a federal district court struck down an ordinance that required firefighters to send all media inquiries to the fire chief. In Connecticut, a U.S. district judge threw out a highway patrol policy forbidding troopers from making “official comments relative to department policy” without permission from a supervisor.
In a newly published report (“Protecting Sources and Whistleblowers: The First Amendment and Public Employees’ Right to Speak to the Media”), our research
Read more here: https://www.poynter.org/business-work/2019/government-agencies-cant-stop-employees-from-talking-to-the-press-heres-why/