MedPage Today, an online breaking-news service for physicians, today instituted a rule requiring reporters to inform readers whenever a press officer has listened in on an interview.
“If a source’s comments are monitored by a press officer, then the person may not have been speaking freely,” said Peggy Peck, vice president and executive editor. “That’s information readers should have.”
Peck instructed her staff to use phrases like “said in a telephone interview that was monitored by a public information officer” whenever using quotes from such an interview.
Peck emphasized that a reporter’s goal should be to avoid having a press officer listening to calls or attending face-to-face interviews. “But if that is the only way a researcher will talk, we need to let our readers know that,” said Peck’s memo to eight reporters.
Peck is a member of AHCJ’s Right-to-Know Committee, and the rule sprang from the committee’s work to end interference by public information officers in newsgathering, especially in the federal government.
“I applaud MedPage Today for taking this step and encourage reporters and editors everywhere to follow suit,” said Felice J. Freyer, chair of the Right-to-Know Committee and a member of AHCJ’s Board of Directors.
“Reporters have come to accept the presence of public relations people at interviews, but it’s really not acceptable. We all know that such eavesdropping hinders the free flow of information – and we need to let our readers know that this is happening.”
AHCJ is seeking input from reporters about their experiences obtaining information from the federal government. “If you’ve given up trying to reach federal officials because of past delays and obstacles, we want to hear about that too,” Freyer said. Please send your comments to email@example.com.
Freyer would like to clarify that, in her quote above, “monitoring” would be a more accurate description of public relations staff sitting in on interviews because journalists are typically aware when PIOs are present.
AHCJ also is looking for positive experiences or examples in which relationships between journalists and press officers work well. Send those examples to firstname.lastname@example.org.