ENACTING a policy that might seem more at home in North Korea, or in the darkest days of Soviet oppression, the Canadian government agency Environment Canada has issued instructions to its scientists attending an international polar research conference not to speak to the press without a government media minder present to approve and record the exchange.
A report today on the newspaper website canada.com recounts how the 50 or so Environment Canada (EC) scientists attending the International Polar Year conference IPY 2012 in Montreal were warned not to speak to any reporters at the event. In an email circulated to the delegates, which has been seen by LabHomepage, the scientists are instructed to ask media representatives for a business card and then seek clearance for an interview with their government ‘media relations contact’.
This contact, the scientists are assured, will then be present during the interview to “assist and record”. Scientists are further instructed to provide their own recording of any interview to the government, or if a recording is unavailable to complete and submit a ‘media interview form’.
The conference this week in Montreal has sparked the latest in a series of controversies between the Canadian government, the scientific community, and the media. Last week a report in the Ottawa Citizen recounted how a simple request for information on a snow research project unleashed a ‘blizzard’ of bureaucracy but no actual information. Meanwhile, a US-based scientist sharing the project with the Canadians simply answered the reporter’s questions in a short telephone call.
The report on canada.com, by Margaret Munro, quotes a number of scientists expressing their dismay at the situation: “a crude heavy-handed approach to muzzle Canadian scientists”, said one; “clearly designed to intimidate” agreed another.