Last week, a coalition of news organizations delivered a letter to White House Press Secretary Jay Carney protesting the Obama administration's routine denial of the right of journalists to photograph or videotape the president while he performs his official duties.
Last week, a coalition of news organizations, including The Associated Press Media Editors, American Society of Newspaper Editors, White House Correspondents' Association, Association of Opinion Journalists, Bloomberg News, Associated Press, CNN, Gannett Co., Fox News Channel and NBC, delivered a letter to White House Press Secretary Jay Carney protesting the Obama administration's routine denial of the right of journalists to photograph or videotape the president while he performs his official duties.
The coalition believes that imposing these limits on press access negatively impacts the public's right — your right — to know what your government is doing.
An independent press is one of the cornerstones of a free society. Every day, you have the right to be informed about how our elected officials carry out the duties you elected them to perform. The president is our highest elected official and therefore faces the scrutiny associated with being the leader of the free world as he guides our country through myriad issues daily.
News organizations are asking for access to the president's activities — being in the room when he conducts the American people's business. We are not asking for access to the president's residence or areas restricted for national security reasons.
This White House has claimed that recent meetings between President Obama and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, another meeting between the president and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a meeting between the president and Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham and a meeting of the president and his family with Pakistani human rights activist Malala Yousafzai were all "private events."
These are examples of just a few of the events that have been characterized as private. However, in each case, the White House turned around, sometimes within minutes, and released photographs of these meetings, taken by a government photographer, on social media and through other channels.
The Obama administration has continually talked about its commitment to transparency. Denying news outlets the ability to photograph the president flies in the face of that claim. Washington has increasingly become more about "spin," controlling the message, than actually working to keep you informed.
APME and ASNE noted in a statement to their members that previous administrations understood the importance of granting the press access to the president. We enjoy a rich visual history of the White House and our presidents because of the skill of independent photojournalists who had the access to record some of our country's pivotal moments in the White House.
Some people might claim this is a "press problem." It is not; it's your problem. The 38 news organizations that signed the letter, and many more, believe in and support your right to unfiltered information about how your government works.
When the White House denies access to independent journalists, and then issues its own photographs, the White House is, in fact, issuing a visual press release. APME and ASNE noted in their statement, "These photographs are, in essence, government propaganda tailored to serve the president's interest and not the public's."
We hope the White House takes these concerns seriously and agrees to meet with members of the coalition at the earliest possible time.
NO PHOTOS IN REP
In the meantime, The Repository, The Times-Reporter and The Independent will refrain from publishing any photographs or videos released by the White House.
We believe you have the right to a complete and independent news report, not a series of selective press releases supplied by government offices.
Teri Hayt is executive editor of The Repository and secretary of the Associated Press Media Editors. Reach Teri at 330-580-8310.