National Press Club

Forum to explore public affairs interference with reporting

February 27, 2014 | By John M. Donnelly | JDonnelly@cq.com

A National Press Club panel on March 19 will discuss the first ever national surveys that document reporters' perceptions about whether government press offices interfere with reporting.

The event will be held March 19 at 1:30 p.m. at the National Press Club's Zenger Room. Register here.

The forum is timed to occur during Sunshine Week, which is an annual series of events in mid-March that spotlights the importance of transparency, especially government openness.

The Society of Professional Journalists sponsored one national survey of political and general assignment reporters working at the state and local level. SPJ also joined with the Education Writers Association to sponsor a separate survey of the nation's education reporters.

The surveys were led by Dr. Carolyn S. Carlson, a communication professor from Kennesaw State University in Georgia.

In the last two years, surveys by Carlson have stirred discussion about the widespread movement in recent times in which government agencies and other entities bar employees from speaking to reporters unless they go through public affairs offices. Her work has also shined a light on delays and other barriers that sometimes ensue after reporters contact public affairs staff.

The previous studies found, for example, that most Washington-area reporters in the federal arena say agencies’ control over whom they speak to is censorship and that such controls keep information from the public. She also found that 40 percent of government public affairs officers say they have blocked certain reporters due to 'problems" with their previous reporting.

Speakers at the March 19 event will include:

  • Moderator Kathryn Foxhall, a member of the National Press Club Freedom of the Press Committee and a freelance reporter
  • Carolyn S. Carlson, communication professor from Kennesaw State University and leader of the two new surveys
  • David Cuillier, President of the Society of Professional Journalists and director of the University of Arizona School of Journalism.
  • A representative of the Education Writers Association

NPC and SPJ have also posted an op-ed for use by news outlets during Sunshine Week saying that agencies at all levels are controlling the information the public receives, threatening the very foundation of democracy. Click here to view.

Contacts: Kathryn Foxhall, kfoxhall@verizon.net; or John M.Donnelly: jdonnelly@cq.com; 202-746-6020.