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News media organizations call for open hearings over W.Va. mining tragedy

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The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and eight news organizations today sent a letter urging the Mine Safety…

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and eight news organizations today sent a letter urging the Mine Safety and Health Administration to conduct public hearings as it investigates the nation’s worst mining disaster in 25 years.

The MSHA had previously announced its plans to interview miners in the presence of attorneys for the Labor Department, the State of West Virginia and Massey Energy, while excluding the public and the news media.

The Reporters Committee, joined by The Associated Press, the Radio Television Digital News Association, the American Society of News Editors, the Society of Environmental Journalists, the Charleston (W.V) Gazette, the Society of Professional Journalists, the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors and the National Newspaper Association urged MSHA to comply with the wishes of at least two families involved in the accident and conduct hearings. Under the law, such hearings must be accessible to the public, as opposed to interviews that involve government investigators and company representatives but bar access to the public.

“The public interest in what happened at the Upper Big Branch Mine is monumental,” the letter said. “The presence of government investigators cannot substitute for the role of the press in examining MSHA’s enforcement of the law at the mine, and whether the accident is properly investigated.” Should the MSHA refuse to conduct an open hearing, the news media organizations asked that, at the very least, the interview recordings or transcripts be released to the press as soon as they become available, and not after MSHA completes its final report.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press is a 40-year-old nonprofit organization that does legal defense and advocacy work on behalf of journalists working in the United States.

The letter is available at the Reporters Committee’s website, www.rcfp.org.