Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Critics of Wisconsin governor say his plan to cut magazine is latest effort to limit transparency

Critics say Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker's call to eliminate Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine, which they say has often been censored by government officials, is his latest attempt to stifle government transparency, Cassandra Willyard reports for Columbia Journalism Review.

"The state estimates that eliminating the magazine would save nearly $545,000 a year," Willyard writes. "That’s just 0.001 percent of the state’s $45 billion annual budget. And that money doesn’t come from taxpayers. The magazine is fully funded by its subscribers. About 48,000 people pay the $8.97 annual subscription fee, and another 40,000 receive the magazine as a perk when they purchase a premium hunting and fishing license. Content comes from non-profits, unpaid freelance writers and photographers, and Department of Natural Resources staff."

Supporters of the magazine say the Walker administration has been interfering with the magazine's content for years. Natasha Kassulke, a journalist who was named editor in 2011, said at first she had her choice of stories. That changed in 2013, two years after Walker was elected, when "she published an insert on climate change funded by the University of Wisconsin’s Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies."

Before the story ran, Kassulke had always submitted a list of the stories she planned to run to the agency’s communications director, Willyard reports. After the climate change story she was required "to submit the full text of all stories to the entire leadership team for review." That led to several stories being scrapped, such as one about the American marten, an endangered species in Wisconsin. Kassulke said "the story included a map of the animal’s habitat, which overlapped a proposed iron mine site in Northern Wisconsin."

She said "agency leaders also prohibited stories on frac-sand mining, privatization of groundwater and climate change," Willyard writes. "And they told her she could no longer use the terms 'global warming' and 'climate change'."

George Meyer, executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, told CJR that when he served as DNR secretary, employees could freely speak with the media, now "they’re basically gagged." He said "cutting the magazine was never about saving money," telling Willyard, “They don’t value providing information to the public. They don’t see the public as people they work for.”

No comments: