Eleven Journalism Groups Protest FDA Interview Restrictions

By: Joe Strupp Eleven journalism organizations, ranging from the Society of Professional Journalists to the National Newspaper Association, are demanding an end to a U.S. Food and Drug Administration requirement that restricts interviews with FDA employees.

A letter to FDA officials from the group states that a current restriction requires journalists and FDA employees to obtain permission from an agency official in order to conduct an interview.

"These relatively new practices hinder reporters' ability to learn the truth by inhibiting and sometimes barring employees from providing essential information," the letter states, adding that the group also objects to public information officers listening in on interviews.

"These restrictions have become increasingly widespread in federal agencies and other organizations," Charles Ornstein, president of the Association of Health Care Journalists, which organized the protest, said in a statement about the letter.

Other groups signing the letter that was dated Dec. 2 are: American Society of Journalists and Authors; American Society of News Editors; National Association of Science Writers; National Freedom of Information Coalition; National Newspaper Association; National Press Foundation; Radio Television Digital News Association; The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press; Society of American Business Editors and Writers; and Society of Professional Journalists.

"We are tremendously heartened by President Obama's pledge to create an unprecedented level of government openness," Kevin Smith, president of the Society of Professional Journalists, added in a statement. "It's in that spirit we want to tell the administration that it's not possible to do that and maintain these inherited constraints which did not exist under most administrations."

The entire letter is below:


The FDA Transparency Taskforce_
c/o Joshua Sharfstein,
Principal Deputy Commissioner_
U.S. Food and Drug Administration_
10903 New Hampshire Ave._
Silver Spring, MD 20993

December 1, 2009

To the FDA Task Force on Transparency,

The organizations below, representing thousands of journalists, strongly urge the Food and Drug Administration to end practices that restrict the flow of information to the public. The free flow of information is essential to democracy. 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. These relatively new practices hinder reporters' ability to learn the truth by inhibiting and sometimes barring employees from providing essential information.

Nearly all prior administrations allowed open communication between agency employees and the media. The FDA should restore this policy.

Public information officers can play an important role in answering questions and facilitating interviews. But when they forbid, delay or monitor contact between reporters and employees, they interfere with the public's right to know and can delay access to timely information necessary to protect and advance public health. Usually the most accurate information comes from federal employees closest to the facts, not a go-between. These practices are a disservice to Americans.

In keeping with President Obama's promise to make government more transparent and accountable, we hope FDA will end these harmful practices and restore the free flow of information.

We are happy to discuss this letter further with you.

To follow up, please contact journalist Kathryn Foxhall. We look forward to hearing from you soon.

American Society of Journalists and Authors
Association of Health Care Journalists
American Society of News Editors
National Association of Science Writers
National Freedom of Information Coalition
National Newspaper Association
National Press Foundation
Radio Television Digital News Association
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
Society of American Business Editors and Writers
Society of Professional Journalists


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