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