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Wednesday, Jul 30, 2014
Commentary

Obama must remove the public information barriers


Published:

Mr. President, you have a public information problem. Again.

Several months ago, journalism organizations complained about a lack of access for news photographers to pertinent presidential events.

Last week, 38 journalism and open-government organizations called on Barack Obama to call off his department-level “minders” who slow, squelch and otherwise hinder access to public information.

Too frequently, efforts to gather information critical to the public are shipped through “public information officers,” meaning answers from those who are on the front lines of agencies are muzzled until permission comes from the press contact.

These barriers are making it difficult to quickly and accurately hold government accountable to the public.

“The president pledged to be the most transparent in history,” reminded Society of Professional Journalists president David Cuillier.

“He can start by ending these practices now.”

Specifically, the protest letter cites delays in answering questions past deadlines, blocking requests to speak to certain experts, conveying information “on background” about what should be public information and blackballing reporters who write critically of some federal agencies.

Holding the press and public at bay doesn’t lessen negative coverage. If anything, it breeds cynicism.

The fix is simple.

The president should encourage agencies to take calls in a timely fashion, speak on the record about the public’s business, and make public records easily accessible.

He should embrace a free-flow of information to help create an informed citizenry.

Choke-holds on pertinent sources harm society and the presidency.

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