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Capitolbeat Joins Journalism Organizations in Calling for Openness in the Investigation of the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster

April 28, 2010

Capitolbeat joined several journalism organizations in asking the Mine Safety and Health Administration (“MSHA”) to take measures which will ensure public oversight of the investigation into the recent Upper Big Branch Mine explosion.  We understand that the  MSHA will begin its investigation this week.  

It is still unclear whether the MSHA will conduct a fully open hearing or will default to a series of interviews with miners who worked in the mine and survived the disaster.  It has both options at its disposal.   Our letter, drafted and sent by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, requests that the investigation consist of public hearings, as requested by at least two families involved in the accident and as benefits the greater public interest in an investigation of this magnitude.  

The letter requests that, should it opt to use the less-open individual interview format, the MSHA should allow members of the press to attend or, at the very least, should immediately make transcripts available for public view.  This is necessary to ensure oversight of the government investigation. This is especially important and appropriate given the expected attendance of representatives of Massey Energy, the owner of the mines, at these interviews. We cite both legal and practical precedent for these requests, noting:  

“[T]he news media’s critical role in timely informing the nation about public safety concerns only serves to enhance MSHA’s mission of enforcing compliance with mandatory safety and health standards and promoting improved safety and health conditions in the nation’s mines.”

The Capitolbeat Board agreed that participation is important not only to ensure access to this investigation, but others which may occur across the country and are not limited to mine disasters.  Our members will unfortunately be called upon to cover the aftermath of tragedies of varying types which might require similar investigations in the future.  We need to ensure they can.

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