NEFAC to Governors: News Organizations Provide Essential Services During Pandemic

NEFAC commends all journalists for the excellent job they are doing given the challenging circumstances the COVID-19 pandemic presents. Our coalition wants to be a resource for you: What specific challenges are you facing and what needs do you currently have? Whether it’s guidance on better work strategies, small grants for unexpected expenses or online tutorials relevant to your work, please let us know so we can start finding solutions. Please email your suggestions to NEFAC Executive Director Justin Silverman at justin@nefac.org.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT Justin Silverman | 774.244.2365 | justin@nefac.org

MARCH 24 LETTERS

The New England First Amendment Coalition recently wrote to the governors of several states describing the essential services newsrooms are providing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The coalition wrote letters on March 24 to the governors of Maine, New Hampshire and Rhode Island reminding them to exempt news organizations if they deem it necessary to close certain businesses to help contain the coronavirus.

Governors in the other New England states have either already done so or have provided sufficient assurances that press interests would be protected.

“In print, on the air and online, journalists play a crucial, constitutionally protected role in providing information to communities during a time of crisis,” according to NEFAC and several organizations representing press interests throughout the region.

“Misinformation about the coronavirus is pervasive, and journalists are well equipped to dispel rumors through relevant and accurate reporting,” they wrote. “News organizations and all workers supporting them are a lifeline for citizens whose health and safety relies on timely information.”

If and when the time comes to close nonessential businesses, they wrote, governors should do the following when categorizing news organizations as essential businesses or public services:

Provide a broad definition of news organizations to encompass all media being used by journalists. It is the practice of journalism that needs to be protected regardless of what specific medium is used for the news reporting.

Make clear that all workers who support a news organization — including not just the journalists themselves but also delivery drivers and others involved in the news business — are exempt from any restrictions.

Continue to provide the access reporters need to do their job. Even with reasonable precautions and social distancing procedures, there can and must be press presence at briefings and any governmental meeting that would normally be open to the public.

NEFAC’s letters are the latest example of how the coalition is protecting the press and the public’s right to know during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On March 20, the coalition joined more than 100 open government advocates to demand transparency and opportunities for public oversight during the health crisis. The same day, The Boston Globe published an op/ed by NEFAC Executive Director Justin Silverman that spotlighted the increasing secrecy within all levels of government.


NEFAC was formed in 2006 to advance and protect the Five Freedoms of the First Amendment, including the principle of the public’s right to know. We’re a broad-based organization of people who believe in the power of an informed democratic society. Our members include lawyers, journalists, historians, academics and private citizens.

Our coalition is funded through contributions made by those who value the First Amendment and who strive to keep government accountable. Please make a donation here.

Major Supporters of NEFAC include Hearst Connecticut Media Group, The Boston Globe, Paul and Ann Sagan, WBUR, Boston University and the Robertson Foundation.

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