LION joins 60+ press groups urging Trump to meet on gov't access

Request follows multiple letters to Obama administration

By Dylan Smith | Jan. 18, 2017

Donald Trump in Hershey, Pa., in mid-December.

LION Publishers joined with the Society of Professional Journalists and about 60 other journalism organizations in asking President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence to set up a meeting to discuss transparency and access to government.

The coalition sent a letter Wednesday to Trump and Pence, asking for a meeting or conference call to discuss:

  • • the ability of reporters to directly interact with government employees who are subject matter experts, rather than interacting with Public Information Officers (or having all conversations monitored by Public Information Officers);
  • • access to the activities of the President;
  • • and ensuring that the Federal Freedom of Information Act remains as strong as possible.

“We believe strongly that journalists are the eyes and ears of the citizens of the United States,” said SPJ National President Lynn Walsh. “The average American citizen does not have the time or resources to check up on elected officials to make sure they are running the country the way they should. It is up to journalists to help hold those in power accountable.”

Local news reporters aren't often called upon to interview the president, but they do deal with federal officials frequently, said Dylan Smith, chairman of Local Independent Online News Publishers.

"Federal regulators are daily making decisions that have a direct effect on local communities," Smith said. "Whether it's the environment, or business, law enforcement or transportation funding, their power extends far from Washington, D.C. Sadly, too often they are not responsive to questions from journalists — and regular citizens — seeking to understand and explain what their actions will mean to local residents."

This letter follows several that were sent to the Obama administration since at least 2013, regarding concerns about White House restrictions on photographers, transparency and public information officer restrictions.

The first letter, sent Nov. 21, 2013, addressed concerns regarding White House restrictions on photographers. The next letter, sent July 8, 2014, and a follow-up letter sent Aug. 5, 2014, regarding PIO and transparency issues were met with a response from the White House on Aug. 11, 2014, that the groups found unsatisfactory. This white paper and other articles also provide background on the issue.

LION represented its membership in joining the signatories of several of those letters.

“We urge you to publicly affirm your commitment to transparency, to issue an executive order prohibiting the restrictive public information policies that have been the status quo, and to engage in a public discussion with us about the Trump administration’s commitment to the free flow of information from the White House and all federal government, to the American people,” the latest letter states.

The groups hope that together, they and the Trump administration can improve the lines of communication between the White House and the press.

SPJ and other journalism and government accountability groups have contacted the White House multiple times over the past several years, asking the Obama administration to stop practices in federal agencies that obscure transparency and prevent important information from getting to the public. In the last letter, from September 2016, more than 40 organizations signed on to a letter, including LION Publishers.

"No matter who's in charge, Democrats or Republicans, they need to know that somebody's watching and they need to live up to the commitments and responsibilities of a representative government," Smith said. 

Press letter to Trump & Pence

Dear Mr. President-elect and Mr. Vice President-elect,

In December 2015, a delegation representing more than 50 journalism and open government organizations met with Josh Earnest, President Obama's press secretary, urging greater openness and transparency from the federal government.

The group shared its concerns to Earnest and his staff regarding the administration's communications policies, including:

  • officials blocking reporters' requests to talk to specific staff people;
  • excessive delays in answering interview requests that stretch past reporters' deadlines;
  • officials conveying information "on background," refusing to give reporters what should be public information unless they agree not to say who is speaking;
  • federal agencies blackballing reporters who write critically of them;
  • and other policies that prevent information from flowing to the public.

Since that meeting, however, little has been done to improve these issues.

Our Founding Fathers knew the importance of a press that is free to report on the activities of our government and elected officials. "Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost," said Thomas Jefferson in a January 28, 1786, letter. Yet here we are, almost exactly 231 years after Jefferson wrote those words, and attempts to stifle the flow of information to citizens of the United States continue.

But 2017 is a new year, and you are at the helm of a new administration. We would like to pick up where we left off with the Obama Administration and continue the discussion regarding issues relevant to freedom of the press.

Most important on that list are:

  • the ability of reporters to directly interact with government employees who are subject matter experts, rather than interacting with Public Information Officers (or having all conversations monitored by PIOs);
  • access to the activities of the President;
  • and ensuring that the Federal Freedom of Information Act remains as strong as possible.

In addition, we would like to have a conversation regarding how we can work together to ensure that self-government as outlined by the Constitution survives and flourishes, and that a free press remains a cornerstone of our nation and our liberty.

Information-control practices have gone too far and must be curtailed for the good of our democracy and reputation in the world. You can act now, as you begin your term, to shift the federal government away from secrecy toward transparency and accountability.

Here are links to some of the letters sent to President Obama: The first letter, sent Nov. 21, 2013, addressed concerns regarding White House restrictions on photographers. The next letter, sent July 8, 2014, and a follow-up letter sent Aug. 5, 2014, regarding PIO and transparency issues were met with a response from the White House on Aug. 11, 2014, that the groups found unsatisfactory. This white paper and other articles also provide background on the issue.

We urge you to publicly affirm your commitment to transparency, to issue an executive order prohibiting the restrictive public information policies that have been the status quo, and to engage in a public discussion with us about the Trump Administration's commitment to the free flow of information from the White House and all federal government, to the American people.

We would be happy to send a delegation to Washington, D.C., to have this discussion, or we invite Mr. Pence to meet with us the next time he is back in his hometown, which is also home of the Society of Professional Journalists' national headquarters. We are also open to a video conference call as well.

It is the hope of the thousands of members of the 61 organizations below that together, we can work to improve the lines of communication between the White House and the press. Democracy depends on it.

Sincerely,

  • Alaska Press Club
  • American Copy Editors Society
  • American Society of Business Publication Editors
  • American Society of Media Photographers
  • American Society of News Editors
  • Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists Association
  • Asian American Journalists Association
  • Associated Press Media Editors
  • Associated Press Photo Managers
  • Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication
  • Association of Alternative News Media
  • Association of Health Care Journalists
  • Association of Schools of Journalism and Mass Communication
  • Broadcast Education Association
  • Center for Scholastic Journalism
  • College Media Association
  • Colorado Press Women
  • Defending Rights & Dissent
  • Education Writers Association
  • Florida Press Association
  • Hoosier State Press Association
  • Investigative Reporters and Editors
  • iSolon
  • Journalism and Women Symposium
  • Journalism Education Association
  • Local Independent Online News Publishers
  • Local Media Association
  • Michigan Press Association
  • Media of Nebraska Inc.
  • National Association of Black Journalists
  • National Association of Hispanic Journalists
  • National Association of Science Writers
  • National Newspaper Association
  • National Press Photographers Association
  • National Scholastic Press Association/Associated Collegiate Press
  • National Writers Union
  • Native American Journalists Association
  • Nebraska Press Association
  • Nevada Press Association
  • New Jersey Press Association
  • News Media Alliance
  • News Media Coalition
  • News Media Guild Local 31222
  • NLGJA: The Association of LGBTQ Journalists
  • North American Agricultural Journalists
  • Online News Association
  • Poynter
  • Radio Television Digital News Association
  • Religion News Association
  • Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
  • Reporters Without Borders
  • Society of Environmental Journalists
  • Society of Professional Journalists
  • South Carolina Press Association
  • South Dakota Newspaper Association
  • Student Press Law Center
  • The NewsGuild-CWA
  • The NewsGuild of New York
  • Tully Center for Free Speech
  • United Media Guild – TNG-CWA
  • UNITY Journalists for Diversity