In recent times public agencies and other entities have begun prohibiting staff and journalists from speaking to each other without oversight by a public information officer or other person. From there all kinds of censorship is done: tracking or monitoring conversations, refusing to allow staff members to speak, allowing staff members to avoid speaking, etc. This blog collects reports of these policies and incidents. Sponsored by Stop the New American Censorship.
I am increasingly irritated with this practice of
iron-fisted control, particularly in health care. It slows the process and
allows the PIOs to choose who is likely to spew the company line and advance
their own agendas (such as setting us up with new doctors for opinions to get
the word out, rather than the doctor/practitioner who might have the most
experience or a different perspective).
I try as often as possible NOT to go through the PIO but
often their control is such that the message must be clear to the doctors, say,
who are part of the hospital group (for whom the PIO works) to NOT speak to US
unless it’s through the PIO. Dayna Harpster, Senior Staff Writer The News-Press Media Group
As a Washington,
D.C.-based journalist, I face this issue every day. It's frustrating. Even
though I have established myself as a fair and honest journalist, the orders
from on high have been to filter my requests for information through a PR flak.
And they only provide as much information as they want to provide. It wasn't
like this when I broke into the business in the 1970s.
we get a press release from the Secretary of State’s office saying another
petition has been approved for circulation. We check the SOS web page to see
how many other petitions have been certified for the 2014 ballot already. Four
of them. One is referred to as “version 1, blue paper.” Then there’s “version
1, yellow paper.” Then there’s “version 2, blue paper.” And then there’s
“version 2, yellow paper.”
the heck is that? We ask ourselves.
erroneously that we could get our question answered in about 30 seconds, we call
the SOS elections division. We make a terrible mistake. “This is Bob Priddy
with the Missourinet. I have a question about the petitions listed on the web
page as approved for circulation,” I say.
a minute, Bob,” she says.
then there is a silence for several seconds.
new voice comes on, “Secretary of State’s office,” the young lady
this is Bob Priddy with the Missourinet. I have a quick question about the
petitions listed on your website for circulation in 2014. Some are listed as
‘version one, blue paper’ and ‘version 1, yellow paper.’ Can you tell me what
let me check with the elections division…”
a minute,” I say, “where are you? Aren’t you in the elections
I’m in the information division. We handle all media calls.”
I called the elections division with a simple question and got sent to you and
now you have to contact the elections division to find out what I wanted to ask
if you’ll give me your contact number I can go get that for you.”
to fellow reporters: If
you have a question for anybody in Robin Carnahan’s office, do NOT identify
yourself as being with the media. Just say, “Hello, this is Joe Furd. I have a
question about the petitions you have listed on your web page.” Chances are you
will get right through to someone who knows what the hell you’re asking
Bob Priddy, news director the
statewide commercial radio network Missourinet, says his operation has been blogging about the tightening of
controls on information for more than three years. In
December 2009, the blog explained the history:
of the official spokesmen, spokeswomen, spokespersons, spokesones—pick the one
that works best for you—for state government agencies is becoming more
pervasive and more oppressive with each administration in Jefferson City. It
too often reaches a point where reporters are refused opportunities to speak to
those in state government who are most knowledgeable about a subject, a policy,
or an issue…..
concept of elevating PR people to be impenetrable walls between the media and
people in state government who can and should provide their expertise and
knowledge has been increasing,” [over at least the last two and the current
rare not that many years ago when we called someone in state government
directly and were told we had to go through the agency PR person, who in those
days mainly wanted to know that the conversation was going to happen, often so
the department director would not be surprised to see someone from his or her
agency quoted in the press.”
was a point of contention from time to time. But it was usually resolved rather
today. The walls are up. The bureaucracy is carefully protected… by the
department spokesmen who, unfortunately, are not as all-knowing as they want us
also noted, in December 2010 when spokespersons would not answer questions
about the governor’s cancelled trade mission to Korea and Taiwan, “Information the public deserves to have is being hidden,
intentionally, by public officials, those who claim to be public servants,
those who ask the public to trust them to carry out policies for the public
good. One of the roles of the media should be to let the public know if that
trust is being abused.”
editor Bruce Ritchie says that a wetlands expert
at the Florida Department of Environment Protection left a social gathering to
avoid speaking to him. The department has a “protocol” in which employees
contacted by reporters are to refer them to press officers.
The PIO issue has thrust its
ugly head into my life once again this week.
We were invited by a US
senator to cover an event where he was honoring a wounded warrior. After the
event, we were told that he would not be speaking to the media, who were waiting
in the wings. If we wanted a statement, we could call the DC office and they
would email one. (So, instead of talking to the man 3 feet away, we would have
to call his office 500 miles away.)
Basically, this US Senator wanted the press
to only capture the moment he had with a solider, no questions asked. Talk about
getting the rug pulled out from under you!
When I complained to the PIO
who sent out the request for coverage, the response was, "Well, we never said
you were going to get to speak to him. We just wanted you to know about the
event. I can send you a quote to attribute to him for your
At our community newspapers, we often experience
interference by public information officers or city officials. Some of the most
. City PIO who told us she felt that as a
professional courtesy, our
reporter covering her city should call her each month (we're monthlies) and
tell her what she was working on for that issue.
. Another city that had a policy that our reporter could not talk to
any city employees directly. Instead, she had to submit her questions by
email. The PIO would then call or email her back with responses. If
follow-up was needed, she had to go through the same process again.
. In another city, city officials didn't like the way a reporter was
covering their city. She did not get anything wrong but they said she wasn't
positive enough. Called publisher in to complain and to get her replaced. We
declined, but in the end, had to reassign her because they absolutely
refused to talk to her. (That city does not have a PIO.) In the same city,
after a replacement was hired, mayor asked that the new
person be fired (there had been absolutely no problems with her) and replace
her with another applicant they "liked better." We declined to follow
suggestion. We found out later the applicant they liked was an employee of
the PR firm the city had hired to do a branding campaign.
The Valley Journals
At FDA, for the past five years all my interview
requests have been denied or deflected to written questions submitted and
cherry-picked by various PIOs for selective written answers without time (due
to my deadlines) for follow-up questions. I have been told that FDA Press
Office policy is to evaluate requests for interviews according to the extent
of readership the journalist commands. Thus, NBC News and the Wall Street
Journal would be more likely to get the interview than I would with my
few-thousand readers. Granted an off-the record interview with the FDA
commissioner, Margaret Hamburg, I was astounded to see the agency's top PIO
sitting with a tape-recorder at the table. He told me afterwards that agency
recordings are routinely made on such occasions and they are kept for
"internal purposes" for varying periods of time. I found the experience
intimidating, as insurance should I not keep my commitment to be off the
record. When I asked the then-new director of FDA's Center for Devices
and Radiological Health for an interview about his expectations for the job
and how his prior experience fitted him for it, I got a call from the
agency's Press Office informing me that he was too new to FDA to be
interviewed by the press. Whose decision that was I never found out.
Jim Dickinson, Editor FDA Webview/FDAReview/FDA Update
ClinicalTrials.gov is considered by
many to be critical
to the transparency and effectiveness of medical research.It’s a database at which many clinical trials
are supposed to be registered.
But last year a review said most studies
that are supposed to report, don’t.
NIH and FDA said the numbers aren’t
that bad but they have not released analysis indicating what the numbers are.
Meantime, the agencies have not
published the rules Congress called for in 2007 legislation to enhance
enforcement. Last year NIH told Congress it anticipated the rules would be out by
the end of the year.
Now NIH and FDA aren’t answering
questions. In January public information officers refused to let me speak to
anyone over the course of eight contacts I made with them. An NIH official adamantly
refused to tell me anything on the phone and an FDA official did not return my
calls, sending refusals through the public information officers.
FDA public information officers said, “From our perspective it
would be inappropriate to discuss or speculate on a process that is
incomplete,” and, “Regulatory actions take time.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
denied me permission to speak to any expert on male circumcision over a
five-week period in October and November 2011 during which I made more than 20
was tens of thousands of physicians.
The CDC website indicated the agency had been working
on the circumcision recommendations for well over two years.
After numerous contacts, I emailed Kevin Fenton,
director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB
Prevention, with questions including:
---Are the subject matter experts
prohibited from speaking to the press on this topic? Why can't my audience get
an update on the status of the recommendations and the process from a subject
matter expert? I've been told it's premature to talk about the issue. How can
anything that is the public's business ever be premature?
I never received answers from Dr. Fenton
and was never allowed to speak to a subject matter expert.