About AHCJ: General News

AHCJ calls on new administration to improve access to federal experts Date: 03/04/09


March 4, 2009

Contact: Len Bruzzese, AHCJ executive director, 573-884-5606

Read the letter sent to President Barack Obama (PDF).

COLUMBIA, Mo. - The Association of Health Care Journalists has urged President Barack Obama to end inherited policies that require public affairs officers to approve journalists' interviews with federal staff.

President Barack ObamaSuch policies, which are in place at such critical agencies as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health and most agencies of the Department of Health and Human Services, hamper newsgathering and make it difficult for reporters to fulfill their obligation to hold government agencies accountable, AHCJ said in a letter to the Obama administration.

"In an era when issues surrounding health care are more complex than ever, journalists need reasonable access to experts who are employed on behalf of U.S. taxpayers," AHCJ board member Mary Chris Jaklevic said. "In recent years, approval and monitoring procedures have been used to impede the flow of information to the public. Restoring access to experts is critical to achieve government transparency as President Obama advocates."

In the letter, AHCJ said federal public information officers can play a key role in facilitating and coordinating communication, but have been used in recent years to inhibit the flow of information to the public rather than foster it.  AHCJ said its members have reported waiting for days for permission to conduct an interview, or have had their requests ignored or denied entirely. AHCJ said such red tape is particularly onerous in the online era, when stories are reported and published in a matter minutes or hours.

The monitoring of interviews poses another blockade that chills communication by signaling to staff members that their words must comply with an "official story," AHCJ said.

"These permission-to-speak mandates cut down on journalists' contacts with agencies by as much as 90 percent, day in and day out," said Kathryn Foxhall, a health care journalist based in the Washington, D.C., area and member of AHCJ's Right to Know Committee. "They inhibit what public servants are willing to tell journalists and thus consistently constrain what the public is allowed to know about its government,"

The letter asks the administration to instruct federal agencies to review their policies to ensure they foster communication with reporters and prohibit requirements that public affairs staff approve or monitor interviews.