By Lena Williams, Guild-CWA :: A group of journalism and open government organizations has asked to meet with President Obama about press restrictions by federal agencies.
The request, made in an August 5 letter to Denis R. McDonough, assistant to the president and chief-of-staff, comes one month after 38 journalism and open government groups sent a letter to the President criticizing his administration’s lack of transparency, calling it a “form of censorship.” Nine additional organizations, The Newspaper Guild-CWA among them, have signed the letter since July 8.
Both letters were signed by David Cuillier, president of the Society of Professional Journalists.
In the July 8 letter, the organizations expressed grave concern about an unprecedented level of government restrictions in which journalists are prohibited from communicating with government officials unless they go through public affairs offices or through political appointees.
“Up to two administrations ago, most federal agencies did not do this, and the practices harm the government and people,” the follow-up letter said. “Like suppression of speech, the restrictions routinely keep information from the public. They are dangerous and debilitating to us all. Both the media and the administration would be irresponsible to allow the constraints to continue.”
The White House did not respond to the journalists’ first letter prompting the decision to send a follow-up letter to McDonough and 20 top White House staffers.
“We have not heard back from the White House regarding this matter and would like to open a dialogue,” the letter said.
The situation highlights a growing frustration among journalists around the country over the President’s apparent lack of concern about their ability to do their jobs openly and freely without government interference. A total of 47 journalism, civil liberties and open government groups have now signed on to the effort.
When President Obama first took office in 2008, he pledged that his administration would be open and transparent in its dealings with the press and the public. Yet his administration has repeatedly stymied the free flow of information by refusing to speak with reporters, surveilling journalists, subpoenaing journalists to testify in federal cases and threatening to imprison those who refuse to cooperate.
“President Obama could have tremendous influence in reversing this trend, which threatens the foundations of democracy and our safety, if he would require that these restrictions be ended at the federal level,” the August 5 letter states.