Saturday, September 29, 2012

New SPJ Article: PIOs as Censors

Linda Petersen and I write in a new article in Quill,  “Whether they like it or not, PIOs serve as censors for their bosses. Often staff members know a lot they won’t say when PIOs are tracking—at the leadership’s behest—who is talking to which reporter.”

Quill is the magazine of the Society of Professional Journalists. Petersen chairs the SPJ Freedom of Information Committee.
The article notes that reporters used to call up staff people in agencies and elsewhere and staff would give them what they needed.
“Not so anymore. From the largest federal department to the smallest city, everyone is trying to manage the media through the PIOs,” the piece points out.
It advises reporters, among other tactics, to, “Work hard to skirt the monitors.”
The article also urges reporters, “Investigate it. When did it start in your community? Did anyone have any ethical qualms about controlling information? Do they teach this at conferences for local officials?”
The September-October issue with the article, “PIO – Friend or Foe,” should be going up on the SPJ site soon.

From HHS: Serious Censorship on Serious Issues

On child abuse: The New York Times reported in July that a federal health services psychologist had told his superiors that child abuse on a North Dakota reservation was rampant and being ignored.
Portions of his emails about the situation had appeared in the New York Times.
Soon thereafter the Department of Health and Human Services leveled punishment against the psychologist. And soon thereafter it rescinded the punishment, according to the paper.
But in the midst of it all, HHS refused to allow the psychologist to talk to the New York Times reporter.
That HHS prohibition against two people talking to each other came just over two weeks after the investigative report headed by Louis Freeh on child abuse at Penn State hit the news saying that powerful leaders had concealed critical facts in that case.

Tuberculosis outbreak: Also in July, a public information officer at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention forbade reporter Stacey Singer of the Palm Beach Post to speak to experts at that agency who had worked on a tuberculosis outbreak in Florida.
Singer had already identified staff involved in the work.
The reason given for prohibiting the communication was that “state/local health officials have the lead in responding to this situation.”
A letter from CDC to local officials that Singer obtained said the outbreak was one of the most extensive that the agency had been invited to assist with in about 20 years.