In response to recent controversies, the ABSW Executive Committee has decided to appoint a small working party to examine the operation and application of embargoes that affect science journalists in the UK.
The objectives of the working party are: to examine the current use of embargoes that affect science journalists in the UK; to identify strengths and weaknesses in their operation and application; and to bring about improvements where necessary and possible, taking into account the best interests of ABSW members, science journalists in general, and the public interest. There will be eight members in the working party (yet to be appointed), including a secretary, and it will be chaired by ITN's Lawrence McGinty.
Practices both in and outside of the UK will be considered, as embargoes operate beyond national borders. The working party will collect evidence, information and views from ABSW members, non-members and non-science journalists, in the UK and abroad. It will also consult with the professions on the other side of the embargo line: the journal publishers and press officers. This is essential as science journalists do not, after all, control the embargo system and any improvements will require the active agreement and participation of those operating it.
The party's final report is due on 1 October 2009, including recommendations for improving the current arrangements for embargoes. This will be made available to ABSW members.
With a wide variety of views about embargoes among ABSW members and other science journalists, it seems unlikely that a consensus will be reached on all aspects of the subject. Nevertheless, the Executive Committee is hopeful that the working party will be able to shed light on the embargoes process and lead to improvements that benefit the parties on both sides of the fence.