Government Control-Freakery 'a form of censorship' Say Journalists

By | July 15, 2014

GagThe Obama administration’s spat with pretty
much the entire media over transparency (or lack thereof) is all in
good fun,
insists
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest. “They’re all
journalists,” he commented about critics of the administration.
“The day that they sort of sit back and say, you know, we don’t
need to write a letter, the White House is telling us everything
that they’re supposed to, is the day that they’re no longer doing
their jobs.”

But the 40-plus journalism groups that last week accused the
federal government of “a form of censorship” don’t see it as the
usual push and pull between politicians and their friendly rivals
in the media. In a co-signed letter, they complain that “Over the
past two decades, public agencies have increasingly prohibited
staff from communicating with journalists unless they go through
public affairs offices or through political appointees.”

With specific regard to the Obama administration, they write:

The stifling of free expression is happening despite your pledge
on your first day in office to bring “a new era of openness” to
federal government – and the subsequent executive orders and
directives which were supposed to bring such openness
about. 

Recent research has indicated the problem is getting worse
throughout the nation, particularly at the federal level.
Journalists are reporting that most federal agencies prohibit their
employees from communicating with the press unless the bosses have
public relations staffers sitting in on the conversations. Contact
is often blocked completely. When public affairs officers speak,
even about routine public matters, they often do so confidentially
in spite of having the title “spokesperson.” Reporters seeking
interviews are expected to seek permission, often providing
questions in advance. Delays can stretch for days, longer than most
deadlines allow. Public affairs officers might send their own
written responses of slick non-answers. Agencies hold on-background
press conferences with unnamed officials, on a not-for-attribution
basis.

In many cases, this is clearly being done to control what
information journalists – and the audience they serve – have access
to. A survey found 40 percent of public affairs officers admitted
they blocked certain reporters because they did not like what they
wrote.

The letter contrasts the current crackdown with the relatively
open access available before this century. “Only in the past two
administrations have media access controls been tightened at most
agencies. Under this administration, even non-defense agencies have
asserted in writing their power to prohibit contact with
journalists without surveillance.”

The current,
widely distributed
, letter
echoes a 2013 report
from the Committee to Protect Journalists.
That document pointed out:

U.S. President Barack Obama came into office pledging open
government, but he has fallen short of his promise. Journalists and
transparency advocates say the White House curbs routine disclosure
of information and deploys its own media to evade scrutiny by the
press. Aggressive prosecution of leakers of classified information
and broad electronic surveillance programs deter government sources
from speaking to journalists.

In February of last year, President Obama patted himself on the
back,
claiming
“This is the most transparent administration in
history.”

Last week’s letter suggests there aren’t too many people left
sharing his Kool-Aid. The full letter can be found at the Society of Professional
Journalists’ Website
.

Category: Liberty
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