Forty journalism and open government groups today sent a letter to White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest in response to his recent New York Times letter to the editor calling for journalists to give President Obama credit for improvements in government transparency.
The Society of Professional Journalists and other journalism and government accountability groups have contacted the White House multiple times over the past several years, asking the Obama administration to stop practices in federal agencies that obscure transparency and prevent important information from getting to the public. In the last letter, from August 2015, more than 50 organizations signed on to a letter at SPJ’s request.
• Officials blocking reporters’ requests to talk to specific staff people;
• Excessive delays in answering interview requests that stretch past reporters’ deadlines;
• Officials conveying information “on background,” refusing to give reporters what should be public information unless they agree not to say who is speaking;
• Federal agencies blackballing reporters who write critically of them.
• A continued lack of meaningful visual access to the President by an independent press pool
Last December, a delegation representing the 50-some organizations met with Earnest at the White House to urge greater openness and transparency. That meeting followed at least five years of work done by various organizations to study government transparency and the role public information officers (PIOs) play in relaying important information to the American people.
“We have made multiple attempts to convey to the Obama administration that we believe transparency has, in fact, gotten worse the past eight years,” SPJ President Paul Fletcher said. “We were hoping we could point to this White House as a shining example of how it should be done. Unfortunately, we can’t do that and will have to start over with the next administration.”
The letter expresses the groups’ disappointment that, despite a promise to get back to them after the Dec. 15, 2015 White House meeting, the administration has not addressed their concerns.
The groups vow to keep fighting for transparency and open government.
“President Obama may be leaving the White House, but we aren’t going anywhere. Our promise to the American people is to keep fighting for their right to know what their elected officials are up to. To keep fighting for information and images they need to know and see to live their best, most informed, lives as American citizens.”