The presidents of the Association of Health Care Journalists and the Society of Professional Journalists published an op-ed in The Washington Post this morning, criticizing the lack of openness within the Obama administration and calling on officials to improve the flow of information to journalists and the public.
“Democrats criticized the Bush administration for not making decisions based on the best science,” wrote AHCJ’s Charles Ornstein and SPJ’s Hagit Limor. “But the Obama administration now muzzles scientists and experts within federal agencies. When they are allowed to talk about important public health issues, a chaperone often supervises every word. These constraints keep the public from learning whether decisions are science-based or politically motivated.”
AHCJ has been very active in advocating for government openness, including a recent series of meetings in Washington, D.C., with officials from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and its related agencies. The organization has urged the FDA to re-examine a policy that prohibits reporters from sharing embargoed materials with sources before the embargo lifts for the purpose of obtaining outside comment and context. Board members from AHCJ also have worked with state health directors to encourage dissemination of more information during public health outbreaks.
“We remain hopeful that our ongoing conversations with HHS and its agencies will help improve the current climate, which isn’t working for journalists or the public,” Ornstein said. “Our members are interested in timely, meaningful responses to their questions, additional access to scientists and health experts, and speedier responses to their Freedom of Information Act requests.”