The Society of Professional Journalists is leading 38 journalism groups, who have banded together in an attempt to bring a major issue to the attention of the White House.
In what the Washington Examiner is calling an “unprecedented criticism of the White House,” the 38 journalism groups are accusing President Obama’s team of censoring media coverage, and promoting a “politically-driven suppression of the news.”
The group sent a letter to President Obama on Tuesday, urging him to be more transparent, and to “take a stand to stop the spin and let the sunshine in.”
“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,” wrote David Cuillier, SPJ’s President and the letter’s author. “We consider these restrictions a form of censorship – an attempt to control what the public is allowed to see and hear.”
The letter pointed out that despite the pledge Obama made on his first day in office to bring “a new era of openness,” to federal government, the opposite has occurred.
“Recent research has indicated the problem is getting worse throughout the nation, particularly at the federal level,” Cuillier wrote. “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.”
Cuillier mentioned a recent survey, in which it was found that 40 percent of public affairs officers admitted that they blocked certain reporters, due to the fact that they did not like what the reporters wrote.
While some people may think that controlling media access is necessary to guarantee that that information being published is valid, Cuillier argued that, “When journalists cannot interview agency staff, or can only do so under surveillance, it undermines public understanding of, and trust in, government.”
“It has not always been this way,” wrote Cuillier. “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 letter requested that President Obama end the restrain on communication in federal agencies, and provide an avenue through which any incidents of this suppression of communication may be reported and corrected.
“We ask that you issue a clear directive telling federal employees they’re not only free to answer questions from reporters and the public, but actually encouraged to do so,” Cuillier wrote, on behalf of the 38 journalism groups. “We believe that is one of the most important things you can do for the nation now, before the policies become even more entrenched.”
“This is not a ‘press vs. government’ issue. This is about fostering a strong democracy where people have the information they need to self-govern and trust in its governmental institutions.”