Ever have a federal agency insist that interviews with government employees be supervised by a public relations officer? This practice is out of control and we are urging the Obama administration to put a stop to it. You can help.
The Association of Health Care Journalists and the Society of Professional Journalists have written to the Obama administration asking it to end the practices of federal agencies forbidding staff people from speaking to reporters without being tracked and monitored by the public relations offices.
These policies have become ubiquitous over 10-15 years in all kinds of organizations, national and local, public and private. They are, inherently, censorship since staff routinely convey only the official story when they are monitored by their bosses and the political administration. But we seem to have gained some traction in the last few weeks.
FDA, under the new administration, has a Transparency Task Force looking into various openness issues. At its recent meeting Kathryn Foxhall, an AHCJ member, testified that these “permission-to-speak” practices are severe censorship. The testimony got significant interest from the task force members, who are major FDA officials. (The task force link is on the front of the FDA webpage, there is a link to the meeting’s transcript. Search on Foxhall for the testimony)
At an FDA meeting August 14 the Transparency Task Force coordinator said the White House is “very, very interested” in the task force’s work. She also said that media policy and responding to media inquiries are one of about five “buckets” that the comments to the task force are falling into. Foxhall says that this would never have been on the radar screen if AHCJ and SPJ had not spoken up.
Meantime, FDA has re-opened the transparency docet for comments. It also plans another meeting this fall, and FDA Commissioner Hamburg wants a report by the end of the year.
We could really use all kinds of journalists and news organizations commenting on this. Not everybody covers FDA, but if the agency were to change its policy it would be a huge precedent, one that could be used against these mandates across the country. Keep in mind the Administration HAS made strong statements on transparency and there IS new blood at FDA.
Even a couple of sentences would be helpful. Comments can be input online at a special Web site, or go to www.regulations.gov, click on “submit a comment” and search on FDA transparency. Other information: The Transparency Task Force information, including a transcript and webview, is at www.fda.gov. You can also comment on their blog.