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U.S. news organisations protest White House press access limits

Trevor McGoldrick

The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) has echoed a protest made by United States news organizations against the White House over restrictions on news coverage of the daily activities of President Barack Obama, reducing the climate of official transparency and editorial independence of news media.

The White House Correspondents Association complained last week – in a letter sent to White House press secretary Jay Carnet which was also signed by other press organizations – of the restricted access by news photographers to some of the President's official activities, on the grounds that these are deemed to be private. The Association feels that this is just an excuse; otherwise it would not have a reason to release its own official photos and videos of the same events.

In its letter it declares that the White House is “excluding the press” from official activities and is “substituting independent photo journalism with visual press releases.” It says that such practice “is a major deviation from the way previous presidents have worked” with the press and has a “direct adverse impact on the public's ability to independently monitor and see firsthand what the government is doing.”

IAPA President Elizabeth Ballantine said, “Just as we have been declaring in our reports on press freedom in the United States for the past five years, we are concerned with the lack of White House openness and informational transparency. Every media outlet should be able to cover presidential activities with full independence, in its own style and editorial criteria.”

Ballantine, director of The Durango Herald, Durango, Colorado, added, “While official images are provided and this could be beneficial as an element of comparison, it does not cease to be an attitude of public relations and propaganda. Journalists must be able to act in an independent manner.”

For his part, the chairman of the IAPA's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, Claudio Paolillo, declared, “This attitude has regrettably been adopted by some countries in Latin America and the English-speaking Caribbean, where one finds that many presidents and political leaders prefer official discourse and public performances as the way of communicating with the people.”

Paolillo, editor of the Montevideo, Uruguay, weekly Búsqueda, added, “Propaganda is confused with information. Without the intervention of journalists, whose role is to ask questions and be a watchdog, governments tend to say only what is convenient to them, limiting the public's right to be duly informed.”

In addition to the White House Correspondents Association the protest letter was signed by: The Associated Press, ABC News, Agence France-Presse, American Society of News Editors–ASNE, American Society of Media Photographers, Associated Press Media Editors, Associated Press Photo Managers, Association of Alternative Newsmedia, Association of Opinion Journalists, Bloomberg News, CBS News, CNN, Dow Jones & Company, Inc., Fox News Channel, Gannett Co., Inc., Getty Images, Lee Enterprises, Inc., The McClatchy Company, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services, National Press Club, National Press Photographers Association, NBC News, New England First Amendment Coalition, News Media Coalition, Newspaper Association of America, The New York Times Company, Online News Association, Professional Photographers of America, Radio Television Digital News Association, Regional Reporters Association, The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Reuters, Society of Professional Journalists, Tribune Company, The Washington Post, White House News Photographers Association and Yahoo Inc.

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