Thursday, March 7, 2013

Increasing Iron-fisted Control

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

Facing the Issue Every Day

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.

Dennis Sadowski
Staff Writer
Catholic News Service
(affiliation only for identification purposes)

The Crap We Go Through Sometimes

So 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.”

What the heck is that? We ask ourselves.
Thinking 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.
“Just a minute, Bob,” she says.
And then there is a silence for several seconds.
A new voice comes on, “Secretary of State’s office,” the young lady says.
“Hi, 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 those mean.”
“Well, let me check with the elections division…”
“Wait a minute,” I say, “where are you? Aren’t you in the elections division?”
“No, I’m in the information division. We handle all media calls.”
“So 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 them?”
“Yes, if you’ll give me your contact number I can go get that for you.”
Memo 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 about.

Bob Priddy
News Director

A Missouri History of Blockage by Spokespersons

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:

“The rise 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…..

“The 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 gubernatorial administrations].

“It was 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.”

“Even that was a point of contention from time to time. But it was usually resolved rather quickly.”

“Not 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 to believe.”

Priddy 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.”

Kathryn Foxhall

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Fear of Speaking 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. 

Kept at bay from a senator

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 story."

A Radio Reporter

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Ensuring the Coverage Is "Right"

At our community newspapers, we often experience interference by public information officers or city officials. Some of the most egregious examples:

. 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 their
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.

Linda Petersen
Managing Editor
The Valley Journals
Riverton, Utah

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

All FDA Interview Requests Denied

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 

Monday, February 4, 2013

FDA and NIH Not Talking About Critical Program 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.”

Kathryn Foxhall
Freelance health reporter
Washington, D.C., area

CDC Refuses Reporter Permission to Speak to Experts After More than 20 Requests Over Five Weeks

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 requests.

 My audience 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.

Kathryn Foxhall
Freelance health care reporter
Washington, D.C., area