Journalists Accuse White House of Politically-Driven Suppression of News

Over three dozen journalist organizations including the Radio Television Digital News Association, National Press Foundation, and the Society of Professional Journalists, have asked the President to drop the "excessive controls" on public information by federal agencies, branding it "politically driven suppression of news and information about federal agencies."

There has been an ongoing tension between broadcast, print and online journalists and the Obama administration, with complaints that the Administration has limited access to events, while providing its own "coverage" through official channels.

In a letter to President Obama, the groups complained about policies that require journalists to go through public information officers (PIOs) before talking with staff and that have PIOs vetting interview questions and monitoring interviews with sources.

"You recently expressed concern that frustration in the country is breeding cynicism about democratic government," the letter began. "You need look no further than your own administration for a major source of that frustration – politically driven suppression of news and information about federal agencies. We call on you to take a stand to stop the spin and let the sunshine in."

“The practices have become more and more pervasive throughout America, preventing information from getting to the public in an accurate and timely matter,” said David Cuillier, president of the Society of Professional Journalists, in announcing the letter. “The president pledged to be the most transparent in history. He can start by ending these practices now.”

Among the general practices the groups identify, saying some consider it censorship, are:

"Officials blocking reporters’ requests to talk to specific staff people;

"Excessive delays in answering interview requests that stretch past reporters’ deadlines;

"Officials conveying information 'on background,' refusing to give reporters what should be public information unless they agree not to say who is speaking.

"Federal agencies blackballing reporters who write critically of them."

The letter also cited a host of specific examples of those practices.

The White House had not responded to a request for comment at press time.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.