A federal appeals court in Boston has upheld the right of a hospital employee to speak to the media, in a case likely to ripple across the private sector and make it harder for employers to issue blanket gag orders.
The U.S. Court of Appeals, First Circuit, ordered a Maine hospital last month to repudiate a rule that barred employees from answering inquiries from the media or providing information without the “direct involvement” of the Community Relations Department. It also ordered the hospital to reinstate an employee who was fired after writing a letter to the local newspaper that described staff turnover and morale problems. Continue reading
The newly drafted media policy of the Department of Health and Human Services has generated some discussion concerning one aspect of the guidelines – the requirement that federal employees notify media officials before talking with reporters.
The Association of Health Care Journalists has not yet taken an overall position on the HHS media policy, which includes many provisions. The organization had encouraged the department to develop such a policy so that reporters and public information officers would have a common understanding about how requests for information would be handled.
AHCJ fundamentally believes that anyone who wants to talk to a reporter should be free to do so. We object to anything that obstructs such interactions. We also have confidence that motivated sources and diligent reporters will continue to find each other regardless of any policy.
AHCJ acknowledges that the requirement for media-office clearance of interviews is an unwelcome, although longstanding, practice. But our priorities at this time are making sure reporters can speak with subject-matter experts by deadline, timely responses from media officers to reporters’ questions, and access to public data.
The vast majority of AHCJ members work outside the Beltway. When they call Washington, they want to be quickly connected with a source who can answer their questions – and they rely on public affairs officers to make that connection.
AHCJ has been pushing for more responsiveness and fairness from those officers. We insist that AHCJ members get an answer – from a quotable source – before their deadline, regardless of the size or prestige of the outlet they work for. Our members also want access to publicly available datasets about the quality of care delivered by local health care institutions and problems identified by inspectors.
AHCJ will continue to focus on working for the changes that make the most difference for most of our members.