SPJ, AHJC Want Obama Administration To Address Information Control

The Society of Professional Journalists and the Association of Health Care Journalists (AHCJ) have called on the Obama administration to end the practice of prohibiting federal agency staffers from talking with reporters unless those conversations are "tracked and monitored" by the public relations office.

That request came earlier this month in response to the Obama Administration's ongoing call for input on how to make government more open and accessible.

It was reintroduced informally this week as part of an online brainstorming session on open government from May 21 through May 28, hosted by the nonprofit National Academy of Public Administration on conjunction with the White House.

Calling it a "disturbing method of information control," SPJ National President Dave Aeikens said in a letter to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, that he recognized that public information officers have an important role to play, but said previous administrations have used the position to "incease secrecy."

The administration just prior to this one, for example, drew criticism from a House oversight committee over its alleged shaping and shepherding of the message from government scientists on climate control.

"For years, the federal government has become increasingly controlling of what government employees say to the press," Aeikens wrote, "to the muzzling of the flow of information the public needs. We object to the inherited practice of requiring journalists to get approval from public relations officers to interview government employees."

The SPJ/AHCJ letters were excerpted in a May 28 online posting to the brainstorming Web site by freelance journalist Kathryn Foxhall.

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.