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Letter to FDA demands that agencies end news gathering constraints

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The FDA Transparency Taskforce
c/o Joshua Sharfstein
Principal Deputy Commissioner
U.S. Food and Drug Administration
10903 New Hampshire Ave.
Silver Spring, MD 20993

December 1, 2009

To the FDA Task Force on Transparency,

The organizations below, representing thousands of journalists, strongly urge the Food and Drug Administration to end practices that restrict the flow of information to the public. The free flow of information is essential to democracy. But in matters of health, even more is at stake: the ability of citizens to live healthful and productive lives.

We object to the requirement that journalists and FDA employees notify or obtain permission from an official to conduct an interview. And we object to public information officers listening to interviews. These relatively new practices hinder reporters' ability to learn the truth by inhibiting and sometimes barring employees from providing essential information.

Nearly all prior administrations allowed open communication between agency employees and the media. The FDA should restore this policy.

Public information officers can play an important role in answering questions and facilitating interviews. But when they forbid, delay or monitor contact between reporters and employees, they interfere with the public's right to know and can delay access to timely information necessary to protect and advance public health. Usually the most accurate information comes from federal employees closest to the facts, not a go-between. These practices are a disservice to Americans.

In keeping with President Obama's promise to make government more transparent and accountable, we hope FDA will end these harmful practices and restore the free flow of information.

We are happy to discuss this letter further with you.

To follow up, please contact journalist Kathryn Foxhall at 301-779-8239 (or by cell at XXX-XXX-XXXX) and kfoxhall@verizon.net. We look forward to hearing from you soon.

Sincerely,

American Society of Journalists and Authors

Association of Health Care Journalists

American Society of News Editors

National Association of Science Writers

National Freedom of Information Coalition

National Newspaper Association

National Press Foundation

Radio Television Digital News Association

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

Society of American Business Editors and Writers

Society of Professional Journalists

Individual journalists also signing this letter:

Deirdre Cox Baker

Betty Ann Bowser
Health Correspondent
The News Hour

Emily Bregel 

Hodding Carter

Sue Darcy
Reporter, The Gray Sheet

Jim Dickinson
Editor, FDA Webview/FDA Review/FDA Update

Jeanne Erdmann
Freelance Medical Science Writer

David Filmore
The Gray Sheet

Kathryn Foxhall
Freelance Reporter

Bryant Furlow
Health Care Journalist

Roberta Friedman
Freelance Medical Writer

James Gallagher

Barbara Glickstein
Independent Broadcast Journalist

Terri Hansen
Freelance Environmental Journalist

Mary Houghton
Executive Editor
The Gray Sheet

Cornelia Kean

Richard R. Kerr

Mary Knudson

Jeanne Lenzer
Independent Investigative Journalist

Adam Marcus
Managing Editor
Anesthesiology News

Diana J. Mason
Director, Center for Health, Media, and Policy
Hunter College

Pat McNees

Rick Rader
Editor-in-Chief
Exceptional Parent Magazine

Jonathan Rollins
Counseling Today

Sue Russell
Journalist/Author

Ed Silverman
Bureau Chief/The Pink Sheet
Editor/Pharmalot

Kent Steinriede

Joseph M. Valenzano, Jr.
President and CEO
EP Global Communications, Inc.

Phyllis Vine