Journalists often complain that policies requiring them to go through a federal agency's public information officers (PIOs) simply obstruct their access to information that the public needs. The motive for the requirement often seems to be prevention of political embarrassment rather than access or accuracy.
Now an article in the Society of Professional Journalists' Quill magazine takes the complaint to a higher level. It was written by journalist Kathryn Foxhall and Linda Petersen, who chairs SPJ's Freedom of Information Committee.
Public information offices often impose requirements that PIO "minders" sit in on interviews between journalists and agency staff — a technique that Saddam Hussein used to prevent scientists from talking to international inspectors about Iraq's supposed nuclear weapons program. But Petersen and Foxhall argued PIO restrictions are not aimed at access and accuracy.
"That’s nothing more than a PR-spun crock," they wrote. "We at SPJ recognize it for what it is: censoring the media by controlling newsgathering at the source."
The article urged journalists to resist the PIO requirements in their own work — and to work together nationally to elevate the PIO censorship issue.