New 'media rules' so restrictive scientists can't talk about floods that happened 13,000 years ago.
Ottawa (14 Sept. 2010) - The Harper government is so paranoid about scientists talking to the media that they are now forbidden from speaking publicly about subjects as uncontroversial as floods that occurred 13,000 years ago.
The new rules were imposed last spring when scientists with the natural resources ministry were told they must have 'pre-approval' to talk to the media and adhere to "media lines" so narrow that many benign as well as sensitive issues are deemed off limits.
The new rules are set out in documents obtained by Postmedia News through access to information legislation.
In effect, the restrictions cut scientists off from Canadians – who pay their salaries – by preventing them from talking about matters of broad public interest such as fish stocks, genetically modified crops or mercury pollution in the Athabasca River.
"It's Orwellian," says Andrew Weaver, a climatologist at the University of Victoria. The public has a right to know what federal scientists are discovering and learning, he argues.
Natural resources scientists, who study everything from seabeds to melting glaciers, have been able for decades to discuss their research – or they were until the new rules were imposed.
"We have new media interview procedures that require pre-approval of certain types of interview requests by the minister's office," Judy Samoil wrote on behalf of the department in an e-mail dated last March 24.
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