About AHCJ: General News

HHS agrees to recognize AHCJ membership as credential for press events Date: 01/13/16

Felice J. Freyer

Irene Wielawski

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will recognize membership in the Association of Health Care Journalists as sufficient credential for any media briefing or press event sponsored by HHS or its agencies.

The HHS recognition provides a powerful lever for AHCJ members, especially freelancers, when they encounter obstacles to obtaining credentials at medical society and scientific meetings. Now members can point out that the federal government considers AHCJ membership adequate proof of a reporter’s legitimacy.

Representing AHCJ’s Right to Know Committee, Chair Irene Wielawski and Vice Chair Felice J. Freyer brokered the agreement in one of their periodic problem-solving calls with the HHS public affairs leadership.

HHS will recognize all categories of AHCJ membership – professional, associate and allied – as sufficient credential for participation in any press briefings, scientific meeting or dial-in Q&A.

"This is just another example of the ongoing advocacy efforts of AHCJ," said Karl Stark, AHCJ president and assistant managing editor at The Philadelphia Inquirer.

"Our Right to Know Committee has brokered an appeals process with HHS leaders for reporters facing unreasonable delays or inadequate responses from the agency's information officers. It has also developed guidelines for sharing information during epidemics that have been adopted by the leaders of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, among others. Our committee is continually looking for ways to represent members and has a solid record of doing so."    

Jeanne Erdmann, chair of AHCJ’s Freelance Committee, called HHS’s recognition an important step towards improving access for independent journalists seeking to cover scientific meetings and press briefings. HHS policy typically sets the standard for science and medical groups.

“Independent journalists need the same access to government briefings and meetings of professional societies as staff journalists,” Erdmann said.

A discussion on AHCJ’s email discussion list alerted the Right to Know Committee to access problems for journalists who worked freelance or on staff of news outlets unfamiliar to public information officers and other gatekeepers. Shortly afterwards, an AHCJ member forwarded to Wielawski a press release from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services headlined “Media Advisory for Credentialed Media Only.” The release did not include a definition of “credentialed” nor guidance on which members of the media would be denied access to the call.

When the organization protested the use of such exclusionary language on public and media announcements, it was apparent that it wasn’t clear even within the department what CMS meant by “credentialed.”

“This development is another example of how AHCJ’s focused and persistent advocacy results in meaningful benefits for our members,” Freyer said.

In the meantime, if journalists have problems with any HHS agency, use the appeals process outlined in this Covering Health blog post to get HHS public affairs supervisors to intervene. The blog post focuses on inadequate responses from HHS public information officers but the appeals process applies to all types of access problems.