Monday, March 16, 2015

Resources on public affairs offices obstruction, etc.

Current Resources on “Censorship through PIO”
Compiled by Kathryn Foxhall,


Events Related to the White House

--A letter went to President Obama in 2014 from 38 groups:

---A letter went to President Obama in 2015 from 53 groups:

---Six people, including Paul Fletcher and myself, representing SPJ, SEJ and
ASNE met with Josh Earnest in December 2015.

----Note that a white paper and other materials were left for President

---The delegates were promised an answer, but we did not hear despite emails
going back to Josh Earnest and his deputy from Paul Fletcher and Jennifer
Royer, SPJ Communications Strategist.

---On August 30, Josh Earnest had a letter in the NYT asking journalists to
give Obama credit for transparency.

---Stunned, SPJ quickly led in sending a letter back to Josh Earnest from 40

---The letter from Paul Fletcher appeared in the NYT, Sept. 18

---SPJ led over 60 journalism and other groups in asking the Trump administration to talk about this and related issues:


Other Resources

SPJ’s editorial for Sunshine Week, 2017, underscores that the intense message control apparatus built up over the last 20-25 years and used extensively by prior presidents, now belongs to President Trump.

---SPJ and 60 other groups send letter to Trump transition, January 18, 2017

---Blog post on the SPJ FOI. December 2016

Looking at 18 ways to fight PIO censorship.

---The Article in Scientific American, October 2016, Charles Seife

Seife does not address the mandate to notify PIOs, but explores an incident that illustrating the extreme control the FDA exerts over the media.

Some publications are showing courage
---Editorial in Raleigh News Observer opposing PIO controls:

---Rundown of Wisconsin PIO control policies:

Editorial for Sunshine Week Pleads with President Not to Leave These Controls in Place
---An editorial on behalf of SPJ for Sunshine Week says, “As the days dwindle down before the election and the campaign trail hears some astoundingly authoritarian rhetoric, we have a special plea for the President: Don’t leave these controls in place. We can’t know how they will be used next year, much less in 20 years. We do know they have become rapidly more intense over the last seven years.”

SPJ Surveys of Police Reporters and Police PIOs
Find the Same Type of Restraints

---In open comments section some police PIOs say they monitor all interviews with reporters, “To ensure that the correct message is getting out” or To make sure the appropriate information is provided and that the message is conveyed appropriately.

Visit to the White House, 2015
---A delegation from SPJ, ASNE and SEJ went to the White House and talked to White House press secretary Josh Earnest about the censorship through PIOs and the agencies and others holding briefings on background.

Columbia Journalism Review article
---“Today’s federal agencies are ‘highly messaged controlled.’ Here’s what it means for health reporting.

“Obama’s Opaque Administration Makes It Harder to Cover Climate Change.”
Bulletin of Atomic Scientists
--November 30, 2015

“We Are Here to Help You,” Government Executive Nov. Dec 2015
---Article looks at the problems of getting information from government agencies.
 Kellie Lunney.
Page 27

SPJ 2015 Resolution on the Issue

2015 Letter to President Obama
---On August 10, 53 journalism and open government groups again asked President Obama to change policies that constrict information flow to the public, including prohibiting journalists from communicating with staff without going through public information offices, vetting and monitoring interviews.

SPJ 2015 Survey of Science Writers
---New survey sponsored by SPJ finds that science writers often face the same restrictions as other reporters.

Washington Post Story on Restrictions
---Washington Post story on lack of access cites SPJ’s surveys.

Letter to President Obama
--July 8, 2014, the Society of Professional Journalists and the Society of Environmentalists led in sending a letter from 38 journalism and open government groups to President Obama asking him to stop the excessive controls on journalists, including the requirement to go through PIOs to speak to staff members.

The letter got extensive coverage including an editorial in USAToday

Listing of some of the news coverage:

Editor and Publisher Op-Ed
An op-ed says that over the last 20 years this kind of censorship has become a cultural norm and that the restraints are effective.

Neiman Reports
June 12, 2014---“Public health reporters say federal agencies are restricting access and information, limiting their ability to cover crucial health issues.”

  Op-Ed for Sunshine Week, 2014
---The National Press Club and the Society of Professional Journalists posted an op-ed for Sunshine Week saying these controls at all levels threaten the foundations of democracy. Several outlets ran it, including, the Buffalo News, and

 News Event: Two 2014 Surveys Show the Problem Is Pervasive Nationally
---NPC, SPJ and the Education Writers Association presented two new surveys on press office interference done by Carolyn Carlson on March 19 at the National Press Club. The reports are groundbreaking, illustrating the problem is pervasive in many areas of the country, and in all sorts of entities.  The great majority of reporters said they felt the public is not getting the information it needs because of the barriers.
The appendices with reporters’ open-ended comments illustrate a tide of hard-ball obstruction.

 House Website on VA Stonewalling Reporters
--The House of Representatives Veterans Committee started a website on VA facilities stonewalling reporters prior to the current news stories on the VA. Story about it:,
However, the House Committee, itself, does send reporters through its own PAO.

2013 Presentation at the National Academy of Sciences:
---A presentation at a National Academy of Sciences workshop in December said these restrictions are powerful, mean censorship that is new on an historic basis and radical. The response could not have been better, with many people coming up to talk about it.  The 17-minute video is number 11 on the link:
--The NAS report on the workshop with a summary of the talk is available. Search on “Foxhall.” A written copy is available.

FDA Denies Petition
---The FDA denied a reporter’s petition on the issue, saying employees can become whistleblowers if they want to say anything.  A copy is available.

 Panel at the National Press Club, August 2013
---A panel at the National Press Club, August 12, 2013,covered by CSPAN-2, features debate on the issue. Written presentations from that panel:
One survey indicates most reporters working with federal agencies feel the interference is censorship. Another found that 40 percent of PAOs admitted that they blocked specific reporters because of “problems” with their prior stories.

Health and Human Services Says No Communication without Surveillance
Similar to other agencies’ policies, Its media policy says:“…it is important that the relevant agency public affairs office be notified of all media calls/contacts that employees receive about their HHS work.”

Obama Administration Endorses Restrictions, December 2010
In the first years of the Obama Administration journalists asked that these practices be stopped. Instead, the administration’s Office of Science and Technology Policy adopted the restrictions, perhaps for the first time in writing at such a high level. Its scientific integrity memo said federal scientists may speak, “with appropriate coordination with their immediate supervisor and their public affairs office.”

A Complete List of The Surveys

SPJ has now sponsored seven surveys on this issue. The links are also in the abstracts below

2016---Survey of Police Reporters

2016—Survey of Police PIOs

2015—Survey of Science Writers

2014—Survey of Education Writers

2014—Survey of Political and General Assignment Reporters Across the Country

2013—Survey of Public Information Officers
We are researching broken link.

2012—Survey of Reporters Covering Federal Entities