Media groups deride White House on information curbs, monitoring

August 12, 2015
Category: Uncategorized
Members of the Press Corps raise their hands as White House Press secretary Josh Earnest answers questions during the daily briefing in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, Monday, July 13, 2015. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Members of the Press Corps raise their hands as White House Press secretary Josh Earnest answers questions during the daily briefing in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, Monday, July 13, 2015. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)


Society of Professional Journalists

A coalition of 53 press and open government organizations, including the Poynter Institute, have “once again” urged President Obama “to stop practices in federal agencies that prevent important information from getting to the public.”

An open letter sent Monday and disclosed Tuesday reiterates long-standing frustration with the Obama administration, whose own self-image is one of increasing the public’s access to information.

The groups sharply disagree and, instead, cite a list of ongoing practices that curb such a free flow, including vetting interview questions in advance and monitoring interviews.

The frustration is undisguised, as was clear in a release by the Society of Professional Journalists.

“This was the second letter the groups sent to the White House regarding government transparency. The first letter, sent July 8, 2014, and a follow-up letter sent Aug. 5, 2014, were met with a non-response response from the White House on Aug. 11, 2014. “

“President Obama pledged to lead the most transparent administration in history, but we have yet to see this promise fulfilled,” said David Cuillier, chair of SPJ’s Freedom of Information Committee, in the release.

The growing role of public information officers is of special concern, seeing them increasingly as a distinct roadblock rather than a facilitator of a free flow of information.

“Throwing PIO roadblocks in the path of journalists contravenes the spirit of open government and free flow of information,” said Bruce D. Brown, executive director, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, in the release. “While we appreciate the role of PIO as a facilitator, there is no substitute for reporters speaking directly to sources.”

The thrust of the latest urging is in sync with similar frustrations encountered daily by those who cover the White House.

The White House Correspondents Association earlier in the year unveiled proposals to loosen White House restrictions.

Taken together, all the recommendations manifest clear trends on display in recent administrations. Regardless of the party in control, administrations believe they can successfully manage their “message,” whether that’s of the president or the agencies he oversees.

That has meant often keeping even pedestrian information under wraps while espousing openness.