Craig briefs: Journalists call out Obama on transparency
August 19, 2015
Journalists call out Obama on transparency
INDIANAPOLIS — Fifty-three journalism and open government groups called on President Barack Obama — yet again — last week to stop practices in federal agencies that prevent important information from getting to the public, according to a news release from the Society of Professional Journalists.
The national organizations sent a letter to Obama Monday urging changes to policies that constrict information flow to the public, including prohibiting journalists from communicating with staff without going through public information offices, requiring government PIOs to vet interview questions and monitoring interviews between journalists and sources.
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," David Cuillier, chair of SPJ's Freedom of Information Committee, said in a statement. "His term may be coming to a close, but it's not too late to make some real changes in the way officials work with journalists to improve the accuracy and speed in which important information is relayed to the public.
"The United States Freedom of Information Act celebrates its 50th anniversary on July 4, 2016. Now is the perfect time for the President to change the practices of his administration and participate in a public dialogue toward improving the flow of information to the American people." The most recent letter, like prior letters, outlines specific examples of excessive information control, considered by many journalists as a form of censorship. They include:
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■ 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.
Mark Horvit, executive director of Investigative Reporters & Editors, says these types of policies "fundamentally restrict the quality of the information that citizens get about what government agencies are doing. When researchers, administrators and experts cannot speak freely, it becomes impossible to get a full and honest picture of a government program or policy. Such secrecy only fuels distrust and gives members of the public a right to wonder what is being done in their name, with their money," he said.
While journalists acknowledge and appreciate the assistance PIOs often provide in helping schedule interviews and putting reporters in touch with the appropriate contacts, many say access is all too often hindered instead of helped.
Coffee and a Newspaper to discuss Colowyo
The Craig Daily Press will host Coffee and a Newspaper on Sept. 9 to discuss the Colowyo and Office of Surface Mining lawsuit. The deadline for OSM to meet the judge's requirements is Sept. 7, therefore the topic will surround what happens Sept. 7. Publisher Renee Campbell and Editor Noelle Leavitt Riley will lead the discussion. Free coffee and pastries will be provided. For more information, call 970-875-1790 or 970-875-1788.
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