Reporters who cover federal government agencies say they face impediments to getting information to the public because of interference from public affairs officers, according to a survey released by the Society of Professional Journalists. [Press release]
About 70 percent of the 146 journalists who responded to the survey said they had a positive relationship with the public information officers with whom they work, and most reported that officers quickly respond to their queries most of the time.
However, overwhelmingly, comments from the surveyed journalists indicated increasing frustration at what they perceive as efforts by agencies to control the message to the public. “PAOs tend to make up information,” stated one respondent. “You can never trust the information they provide. They make our jobs almost impossible and they treat journalists with barely any professionalism.”
Carolyn S. Carlson, lead author of “Mediated Access: Journalists’ Perceptions of Federal Public Information Officer Media Control,” notes that reporters are “running into interference rather than assistance from the very people hired by the government to help them. Public affairs officers need to facilitate media coverage, not interfere or block it.”
The survey reveals that reporters have to get approval from public affairs officials before interviewing sources, something AHCJ and other journalism groups have protested in the past, and some agencies are not allowing interviews of employees. About 84 percent reported their interviews have been monitored by PIOs, another issue AHCJ has written about.
Journalists agreed that government control over who is interviewed is a form of censorship and that the public is not getting vital information as a result of these controls.
The survey was conducted by Carlson, an assistant professor of communication at Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, Ga., and David Cuillier, director of the School of Journalism at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Ariz., on behalf of the SPJ Freedom of Information Committee, of which both are members. They were assisted by Kennesaw journalism student Lindsay Tulkoff.
Tell us about your experiences with HHS
Tomorrow AHCJ will hold our quarterly conference call with the HHS media office. This usually includes a summary of our members’ experiences with the various HHS media offices (CDC, FDA, NIH, NIDA, CMS, etc), as well as discussion of specific issues.
As always, we depend on you to inform these discussions. Have you interacted with HHS or any of its divisions in recent months? Felice Freyer, chair of AHCJ’s Right to Know Committee, would like to hear from AHCJ members. Please send her a quick note describing what happened, whether it was positive or negative. Are there any concerns you’d like us to raise with them? Please send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or share them in the comments below.