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Editorial: Reporters protest tight controls from Obama administration

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Nobody likes a control freak.

When it comes to making life difficult for reporters, that describes President Barack Obama to a tee.

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Any reporter knows how important it is to talk to the source that actually understands the topic and can answer the questions. In government, that can be department heads, mid-level officials, or “troops on the ground,” who are carrying out policy on a daily basis.

That’s not possible anymore in Washington, since the Obama Administration has decided that reporters can’t communicate with agencies’ staff members without first contacting the given agency’s public information officers.

That may seem trivial, but in reality it’s a roadblock at worst and a long delay at best, for reporters working on deadline.

Worse yet, the Obama White House also required government public information officers to review and okay interview questions prior to the interviews.

And it requires the public information officers to monitor the actual interviews between journalists and the government sources.

That borders on paranoia.

We’re not talking about whistle-blowers or top secret information here, we’re talking ordinary, everyday newsgathering that lets the public know what’s going on, and how well its government is operating.

The Society of Professional Journalist wrote a letter to Obama on July 8, protesting the tight controls on news sources.

SPJ noted that such practices “have become increasingly pervasive for decades, but have significantly advanced in the past several years.”

The Society of Professional Journalists is no small potatoes. It has a membership of close to 10,000 print, broadcast and Internet journalists, along with 37 other journalism organizations and government watchdog groups. With additional retroactive signatories, a total of 48 major organizations signed the letter.

The administration’s response was underwhelming.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest essentially ignored the gist of the concerns, that news sources are no longer freely available on issues ranging from agriculture to housing to defense to you-name-it.

He pointed out that the administration has improved government openness through the protection of whistleblowers, Freedom of Information Act revisions and allowing easy access to visitor logs through the White House website.

But nowhere did the White House address the serious concerns raised journalism groups, particularly journalists’ restricted access to sources, government scientists and officials who have critical information of public interest.

“Typical spin and response through non-response,” said SPJ President David Cuillier. “While we applaud efforts to improve people’s access to their government through websites and FOIA, nowhere does the White House address specific concerns about excessive message management and preventing journalists from getting information on behalf of citizens.”

The American public is not well served when reporters can’t talk openly and freely with officials who are at the heart of a story.

The Obama administration needs to lighten up and let reporters do their job.

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