Reporters complain about FDA press access
More than two dozen health reporters complained this week to Food and Drug Administration officials about an agency policy requiring employees to obtain permission before speaking with reporters. The journalists also said they're worried employees might be withholding important information during interviews since FDA press staffers often listen to the conversations.
"Nearly all prior administrations allowed open communication between agency employees and the media. The FDA should restore this policy," the letter said.
Requiring government employees to obtain permission before speaking with reporters is nothing new -- The Eye has endured this miserable policy too many times to mention -- but it is new at FDA, the letter said.
More from the letter:
Public information officers can play an important role in answering questions and facilitating interviews. But when they forbid, delay or monitor contact between reporters and employees, they interfere with the public's right to know and can delay access to timely information necessary to protect and advance public health. Usually the most accurate information comes from federal employees closest to the facts, not a go-between. These practices are a disservice to Americans.
In keeping with President Obama's promise to make government more transparent and accountable, we hope FDA will end these harmful practices and restore the free flow of information.
FDA spokesman George Strait -- himself a former ABC News medical correspondent -- insisted there is no "written policy" requiring employees to notify his office about interactions with reporters. But he said reporters that reach out to his office first will get the timely assistance and information they need.
"Our deadlines are your deadlines," he said. "Those aren’t necessarily the deadlines of a scientist who’s in a laboratory. We understand that, and frankly, the scientists like for us to be able to handle that part of the world."
“It’s sort of like when a White House reporter wants something out of the White House," he said, suggesting White House reporters call the White House press office when they need most of their information.
The letter's co-signers include the American Society of News Editors, Radio Television Digital News Association and Betty Ann Bowser, health correspondent for the "PBS NewsHour." No other reporters from national news outlets signed the letter.
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| December 3, 2009; 3:52 PM ET
Categories: Agencies and Departments
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