In White House talks, SPJ urges greater transparency

In a meeting at the White House today, senior representatives from the Society of Professional Journalists importuned the Obama administration to conduct its business with greater transparency.

Citing "policies that constrict information flow to the public," the representatives pushed back against communications practices perceived as onerous in an hour-long meeting with Josh Earnest, the White House Press Secretary, according to a statement from SPJ.

"We asked that the president renew his commitment to transparency in government. The goal of this meeting is to try to bring about a culture change that has pervaded government for several decades," said SPJ President Paul Fletcher. "We further asked for a clear statement that government employees are free to speak without interference to members of the press and public. Current policies, we believe, undermine democracy and public trust in our government. We asked for the Obama Administration to reverse that trend."

Today's meeting is only the latest in a string of pleas from journalists covering the White House who say the Obama administration has been too restrictive in its dealings with the press. An effort is underway among the White House press corps to institute a series of policies that would loosen the executive's grip on the media. Among them: the ability to question Obama on a routine basis, regular news conferences, increased access for the White House press pool and a presumption of openness for the president's events.

The press and the Obama administration have historically had a somewhat bellicose relationship where matters of access are concerned. In 2013, a coalition of news organizations sent a letter to then-White House Press Secretary Jay Carney protesting a dearth of access among photojournalists in the White House press corps. Chief among their complaints was the practice of using handout photos taken by White House photographer Pete Souza in lieu of allowing photojournalists access to official events.

The White House has pushed back publicly against accusations of opacity from the press. In an interview with CNN's Brian Stelter in 2014, Earnest said Obama had "absolutely" lived up to his pledge to be transparent.

The characterization has persisted, nonetheless. In March, The Associated Press found that the Obama administration has "more often than ever censored government files or outright denied access to them under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act."

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    Benjamin Mullin

    Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of Poynter.org. He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism innovation, business practices and ethics.

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