In a rare move last week, 38 journalism and open government groups signed onto a letter calling for President Barack Obama to allow for easier access to federal government information. Those groups include the voices of the student press and those who teach and advise them. Journalism educator groups the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication and the Journalism Education Association and student press advocacy groups including the Associated Collegiate Press, College Media Association and Student Press Law Center were among the groups signing. The letter details complaints that include:
- Weeks and sometimes months of delays getting fundamental, important government information to reporters, and thus, the public.
- Forcing journalists to go through Public Information Offices (PIO) for information.
- PIO, in turn, not responding or delaying in providing information or providing “slick non-answers” to questions.
- Forbidding federal employees from talking to journalists directly.
- Forcing journalists to hand in interview questions in advance of the interview.
The letter notes that journalists have not always had these problems. It states:
In many cases, this is clearly being done to control what information journalists – and the audience they serve – have access to. A survey found 40 percent of public affairs officers admitted they blocked certain reporters because they did not like what they wrote.
I urge you to read the letter. Problems with receiving public information is not only a federal government problem, it is a state problem. The public has a right to know what its government is doing. Withholding information prevents the public from holding its government accountable for its actions, good or bad.