Health Care Journalists Seek End to Press Office Restrictions at FDA

November 4, 2009

The Association of Health Care Journalists is tired of requirements by the Food and Drug Administration's press office that agency scientists get permission before speaking to reporters and be chaperoned during any interviews by a watchful press officer. AHCJ, together with the Society of Professional Journalists, say these are "practices that restrict the flow of information to the public."

Those restrictions, while not contained in any written policy, have been widespread practice at FDA since at least 1993. Despite President Obama's pledges to bring a new openness to the federal government, the practices have not ended.

In efforts to carry out Obama's promises, FDA has formed a Transparency Task Force to review its information policies. That task force held meetings to get input from the public on June 24 and November 3, 2009. But it hasn't adopted recommendations yet and seems to be focusing on issues other than press access.

AHCJ and SPJ have been joined by the American Society of Newspaper Editors, the Radio Television Digital News Association, and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press as co-signers on a letter to FDA's Transparency Task Force, calling for FDA to "end these harmful practices and restore the free flow of information."

"The free flow of information is essential to democracy," the groups state in a letter drafted to be sent to FDA. "But in matters of health, even more is at stake: the ability of citizens to live healthful and productive lives. We object to the requirement that journalists and FDA employees notify or obtain permission from an official to conduct an interview. And we object to public information officers listening to interviews."

Groups, media outlets, and individuals can sign on to the letter by calling Kathryn Foxhall at (301) 779-8239 or e-mailing kfoxhall@verizon.net.