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White House provides non-response, response to letter opposing excessive PIO controls



August 11, 2014

David Cuillier, SPJ National President, 520.248.6242, spjdave@yahoo.com
Taylor Carlier, SPJ Communications Coordinator, 317.920.4785, tcarlier@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS – The White House responded today via non-response to a letter sent by The Society of Professional Journalists and 37 other journalism and open government groups urging President Barack Obama’s administration to stop excessive controls by federal public information officers.

The national organizations, with additional retroactive signatories bringing the total to 48, sent a letter to Obama on July 8 urging changes to policies that constrict information flow to the public, including prohibiting journalists from communicating with staff without going through Public Information Officers, requiring government PIOs to vet interview questions and monitoring interviews between journalists and sources. The practices have become increasingly pervasive for decades, but have significantly advanced in the past several years. A follow up letter was sent to the White House on Aug. 5 after nearly a month of no response.

In a response letter received today from the White House, Press Secretary Josh Earnest laid out ways he believes the president has been transparent, which included his protection of whistleblowers, a streamlined FOIA process and the White House’s provision of online visitor logs. Nowhere, however, did Earnest address the other concerns raised by the dozens of journalism groups in their July 8 letter, particularly journalists’ restricted access to sources, government scientists and officials who have critical information of public interest.

“Typical spin and response through non-response,” said SPJ President David Cuillier. “While we applaud efforts to increase people’s access to their government through websites and FOIA, nowhere does the White House address specific concerns about excessive message management and preventing journalists from getting information on behalf of citizens.”

Regardless, Cuillier said he was pleased that Earnest stated his intention to continue working with the groups toward improved transparency.

“I’m hopeful the administration is sincere in its promise to increase openness and rectify the problems,” Cuillier said. “But we want action. We are tired of words and evasion.”

Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For more information about SPJ, please visit spj.org.


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