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The New England First Amendment Coalition recently joined 39 journalism and open government groups to send a letter to White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest responding to his New York Times letter to the editor. In the letter, Earnest calls on journalists to give President Obama credit for improvements in government transparency.
The Society of Professional Journalists drafted the letter which was sent on Sept. 12. NEFAC, 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 August 2015, more than 50 organizations signed on in support.
“You highlight some of the ways the Obama administration has improved transparency in the White House,” the most recent letter stated. “Yet, the 50-plus groups repeatedly outlined to the administration various ways transparency has gotten worse, 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
- A continued lack of meaningful visual access to the president by an independent press pool
Last December, a delegation representing the media and open government organizations met with Earnest at the White House to urge greater openness and transparency. That meeting followed at least five years of work done by various organizations to study government transparency and the role public information officers (PIOs) play in relaying important information to the American people.
The letter expresses the groups’ disappointment that, despite a promise to get back to them after the Dec. 15, 2015 White House meeting, the administration has not addressed their concerns. In the letter, the groups vowed to keep fighting for transparency and open government:
“President Obama may be leaving the White House, but we aren’t going anywhere. Our promise to the American people is to keep fighting for their right to know what their elected officials are up to. To keep fighting for information and images they need to know and see to live their best, most informed, lives as American citizens.”
NEFAC was formed in 2006 to advance and protect the Five Freedoms of the First Amendment, including the principle of the public’s right to know. We’re a broad-based organization of people who believe in the power of an informed democratic society. Our members include lawyers, journalists, historians, academics and private citizens.
Our coalition is funded through contributions made by those who value the First Amendment and who strive to keep government accountable. Donations can be made here. Major Supporters of NEFAC for this year include: The Robertson Foundation, The Providence Journal Charitable Legacy Fund, The Boston Globe and Boston University.