National Press Club

Expert panel to weigh effect of federal public affairs practices on open government

August 6, 2013 | By John M. Donnelly |

The National Press Club will host a panel next week to debate whether federal public-affairs offices hinder more than help the cause of open government.

The panel includes a number of experts from the fields of journalism, public relations and academia who can give voice to multiple perspectives. The event is sponsored by the National Press Club’s Press Freedom Committee and will convene Aug. 12 from 6:30 p.m. until 8 p.m. in the Club’s Lisagor Room.

Click here to register now.

Although executive branch communications offices can be useful, at times indispensable, in helping the press cover the government, reporters need to always be free to seek information in other ways. Yet doing so has become difficult to a degree that some say jeopardizes the access the press and the public have to information.

Public affairs offices increasingly require that reporters conduct all interviews through the press office. U.S. departments and agencies often mandate that their employees only talk to reporters through official channels and with communications staff present. In that same vein, former U.S. officials say that federal personnel seeking to obtain or renew security clearances are sometimes asked if they have had unauthorized contact with a reporter -- a signal to federal workers, especially in the national security field, that talking with journalists is not acceptable.

Such restrictions have increasingly become the rule in federal agencies, but they were not in place so widely a few decades ago. Many reporters do not protest the practices, because they have never known another way.

On the other side of the issue, public affairs professionals believe these controls are necessary to ensure that the press gets accurate information and the department or agency’s message is unified and coherent.

The panel will be moderated by John M. Donnelly, chairman of the NPC Press Freedom Committee and a senior writer with CQ Roll Call. and the group includes:

Tony Fratto, managing partner at Hamilton Place Strategies, a strategic communications and crisis management consultancy, an on-air contributor on the CNBC Business News Network, and formerly deputy assistant to President George W. Bush and principal deputy press secretary;

John Verrico, president-elect of the National Association of Government Communicators;

Linda Petersen, managing editor, The Valley Journals of Salt Lake, freedom of information chair for the Society of Professional Journalists, and president of the Utah Foundation for Open Government;

Carolyn Carlson, former Associated Press reporter, assistant professor of communication at Kennesaw State University near Atlanta, and author of two surveys on the relationship between public affairs staff and the press, and

Kathryn Foxhall, a freelance reporter who has extensively researched the issue.

For additional information, contact John M. Donnelly, NPC Press Freedom Committee chairman at

The National Press Club Press Freedom Committee leads Club efforts to speak out about potential threats to press freedom and open government in the United States and abroad and to promote greater transparency and protections for journalists.

The Club is the world's leading professional organization for journalists. Founded in 1908, it comprises some 3,000 reporters and news sources.