(by Nancy Benac, Associated Press, posted at YahooNews) WASHINGTON (AP) – More than 30 leading news organizations [lodged a protest] to the White House against restrictions that sometimes keep journalists from taking pictures and video of President Barack Obama performing official duties. At the same time, two press groups are urging their members to stop using official photos and video handed out by the White House, dismissing them as little more than “government propaganda.” [President Obama’s aides routinely block independent photographers from capturing him at work, before distributing flattering pictures shot by Pete Souza, his official photographer.]
The news organizations’ letter to White House press secretary Jay Carney detailed a number of recent examples in which photographers weren’t allowed to cover presidential events that were deemed “private” by administration officials even though the White House indicated their newsworthiness by releasing its own photos of the same events.
“As surely as if they were placing a hand over a journalist’s camera lens, officials in this administration are blocking the public from having an independent view of important functions of the executive branch of government,” the letter states, adding that the restrictions imposed by the Obama White House represent a major break from the practices of past administrations.
The news organizations said Thursday that the White House limits on access raise constitutional concerns about infringement on First Amendment press freedoms and have “a direct and adverse impact on the public’s ability to independently monitor and see what its government is doing.”
The press coalition, which included The Associated Press, major broadcast and cable networks, wire services, online services and newspapers, said the access limits also undercut Obama’s pledge to create a more transparent government, and impose “an arbitrary restraint and unwarranted interference on legitimate news-gathering activities.”
The groups requested an immediate meeting with Carney on how to restore full press access. [During a tense meeting at the White House, the practice was described by Doug Mills, a veteran photographer for The New York Times, as “just like TASS,” the Soviet Union Communist state news agency.]
Simultaneously, the presidents of the American Society of News Editors [ASNE] and the Associated Press Media Editors [APME] sent a letter to their members urging them to stop using handout photos and video from the White House. [And outlets such as USA Today and McClatchy newspapers have announced they will not publish the “hand-out” photographs distributed by the White House.]
“We must accept that we, the press, have been enablers,” the ASNE-APME letter states. “We urge those of you in news organizations to immediately refrain from publishing any of the photographs or videos released by the White House, just as you would refuse to run verbatim a press release from them.”
The AP has a policy against using handout photos from the White House unless they are of significant news value and shot in areas that the press doesn’t expect to have access to, such as the Situation Room or the private residence areas of the White House.
Obama spokesman Josh Earnest … defended the White House’s release of handout photos taken by its staff photographer, saying that allows the public to have greater access to the inner workings of the administration. “What we have actually done is use a range of new technology to provide people greater access to the president,” Earnest said. “To the American public, it’s a clear win.”
Among recent presidential events for which the White House distributed its own photos but denied access to photojournalists:
- An Oct. 11 meeting with Pakistani human rights activist Malala Yousafzai.
- An Aug. 26 meeting with African-American faith leaders.
- A July 30 meeting with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators and Vice President Joe Biden.
- A July 29 meeting with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
“While certain of these events may appear ‘private’ in nature, the decision of the White House to release its own contemporaneous photograph(s) suggests that the White House believes these events are, in fact, newsworthy and not private,” the coalition letter states.
Kathleen Carroll, AP executive editor and senior vice president, said too many public events “are now recorded only by photographers who work directly for the White House, resulting in images that are little more than visual press releases.”
“We aren’t asking to make pictures of the president putting on his socks in the private quarters every morning,” Carroll said. “We are asking simply to be allowed back into the room when he signs legislation, shakes hands with other leaders, and otherwise discharges his public duties.”
Santiago Lyon, AP’s director of photography, said in a recent speech about press access that when White House photos replace – rather than supplement – independent photos, the result is “images that put the president in a consistently rosy light.”
“Independent photographers strive to show things as they actually are, not how the protagonists would like to see them,” Lyon said. “Showing the details, making choices of angles, all of these things are the vocabulary of photography.”
In addition to the AP, those signing the coalition letter were ABC News, Agence France-Presse, American Society of News Editors, American Society of Media Photographers, Associated Press Media Editors, Associated Press Photo Managers, Association of Alternative Newsmedia, Association of Opinion Journalists, Bloomberg News, CBS News, CNN, Dow Jones & Co. Inc., Fox News Channel, Gannett Co. Inc., Getty Images, Lee Enterprises Inc., The McClatchy Co., McClatchy-Tribune Information Services, National Press Club, National Press Photographers Association, NBC News, New England First Amendment Coalition, News Media Coalition, Newspaper Association of America, The New York Times Co., Online News Association, Professional Photographers of America, Radio Television Digital News Association, Regional Reporters Association, The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Reuters, Society of Professional Journalists, Tribune Co., The Washington Post, White House Correspondents’ Association, White House News Photographers Association, Yahoo Inc.
AP White House Correspondent Julie Pace contributed to this report.
Reprinted here for educational purposes only. May not be reproduced on other websites without permission from the Associated Press. Visit the website at ap.org.
1. The first paragraph of a news article should answer the questions who, what, where and when. List the who, what, where and when of this news item. (NOTE: The remainder of a news article provides details on the why and/or how.)
2. How does the news media view the White House restrictions on photographing the President while he is performing official duties? Be specific.
3. List the types of media included in those who said that limiting access to the President undercut Obama’s pledge to create a more transparent government.
4. What are the American Society of News Editors [ASNE] and the Associated Press Media Editors [APME] urging their members to do?
5. What is the Associated Press’ policy on using official photos from the White House (as opposed to using photos their own independent photographers take of the President)?
6. a) How does Obama spokesman Josh Earnest portray the distribution to the news media of photos of the President taken by his staff photographer?
b) Do you agree with Mr. Earnest’s assertion?
7. Kathleen Carroll, AP executive editor and senior vice president, said “We aren’t asking to make pictures of the president putting on his socks in the private quarters every morning. We are asking simply to be allowed back into the room when he signs legislation, shakes hands with other leaders, and otherwise discharges his public duties.”
Why do you think President Obama is blocking the press from access to many events in which he performs public duties, even after having pledged to create a more transparent government?
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