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  • Jon is a contributing correspondent for Science.
 

Reporters Ask for Direct Access to Federal Scientists

11 March 2009 4:48 pm
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Journalists like to go straight to the source, and a group of reporters who cover health care say a change in federal policies will help them do their jobs better.

Scientists who work for the U.S. government typically cannot speak with journalists until they receive the approval of their agency’s press office, which sometimes insists on monitoring the interviews. On 26 February, the Association of Health Care Journalists wrote President Barack Obama and urged him to change the policies behind these requirements, which AHCJ contends “hamper newsgathering and interfere with the public's right to know.”

The health journalists are especially concerned about the impact of the policies on the various branches of the Department of Health and Human Services, including the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Food and Drug Administration. AHCJ contends that these restrictions have grown during the administrations of presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, raising the odds "of erroneous or incomplete information being passed to the public.”

Although AHCJ says that public affairs officers can help journalists do their jobs, it worries that too often they “are used to inhibit the flow of information to the public rather than foster it.” The letter asks that federal employees be allowed to speak to journalists without receiving prior approval or having to report the interaction.

The Administration has yet to reply to the letter.

AHCJ, which has more than 1000 members, is headquartered at the University of Missouri School of Journalism in Columbia. The National Association of Science Writers, which has nearly three times as many members (and to which I belong), says it plans to send the Obama Administration a similar letter asking that the policy change apply to all federal agencies that science journalists cover.

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