Agencies restrict media access, survey of journalists finds

Public information officers faulted for shielding employees from questioning.

Reporters who cover the federal government encounter roadblocks that hinder their ability to keep the general public informed, according to a survey released Monday.

The Society of Professional Journalists found that agency press staff subjected reporters to “alarming” rules requiring preapproval of interviews with employees, some outright prohibitions on interviews and sometimes-intrusive monitoring of interviews once they were granted. The survey was completed by 146 Washington-based reporters between Jan. 23 and Feb.24.

“Reporters in Washington are struggling to give the public an objective view of the federal government, but are running into interference rather than assistance from the very people hired by the government to help them,” said Carolyn Carlson, an assistant professor of communication at Kennesaw State University in Georgia. Carlson led the study, for which 776 reporters were initially contacted.

“Public affairs officers need to facilitate media coverage, not interfere or block it,” she said.

John Ensslin, president of the 8,000-member SPJ, called the findings “a dismaying trend. Government works best when there’s a free flow of information at all levels. The strategy of spokespeople acting as the spigots of that information inevitably backfires by fostering leaks and intrigue instead of the sunshine of full disclosure.”

Three-quarters of the working journalists reported that they have to get approval from public affairs officers before interviewing agency employees. Two-thirds said agencies outright prohibit reporters from interviewing employees “some or most of the time.” And some 84 percent said their interviews have been monitored in person or over the phone by public information officers.

Seven of 10 reporters agreed with the statement, “I consider government agency controls over who I interview a form of censorship.” And 85 percent agreed “the public is not getting the information it needs because of barriers agencies are imposing on journalists’ reporting practices.”

Not all the results were negative. About 70 percent of the journalists said they had a positive relationship with the public information officers with whom they work, and most reported that officers quickly responded to their queries most of the time.

Edward Pound, director of communications for the Recovery Board, told Government Executive after reading the survey: “We do our best here to give access to reporters seeking information from senior agency officials. Different agencies have different policies, and when I was a reporter I found it frustrating. But we’re interested in helping, not hindering reporters.”

John Verrico, director of professional development for the National Association of Government Communicators, said it is not the policy of public affairs staff to “control” information.

“Government public affairs personnel should be considered a journalist’s best friend. Our role is that of a facilitator, not a blockade to a story,” he said. “It is in the best interests of both of us to see that a reporter gets the information he or she needs in order to write an accurate account of whatever the issue may be.”

He went on to note that in today’s journalism world, “the luxury of having a dedicated beat reporter has become rare, so government spokespersons are working with general assignment reporters more often than not. For a reporter just coming onto a topic for the first time, it is beneficial to have someone to turn to for clarity and context that may not be apparent in a subject-matter-expert’s initial response to a question. It does no one any good if a story is inaccurate or incomplete or if the information is misunderstood.”

Government Executive participated in the survey.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.