National Press Club

Obama Administration not delivering on its promise of open government, journalists say

October 4, 2011 | By John Hughes | JHughes5@bloomberg.net

President Barack Obama’s administration has failed to deliver on its promise of ``an unprecedented level of openness in government,’’ when it comes to information about science, a panel of journalists said Monday.

At a forum titled ``Access Denied: Science News and Government Transparency,’’ the journalists urged the administration to provide better access to experts, respond faster to information requests and be more transparent about the reasons for failing to answer questions.

Agencies ``are hurting themselves’’ when they block information, Joseph Davis, director of the Society of Environmental Journalists’ WatchDog Project, said at the forum co-sponsored by the National Press Club’s Press Freedom Committee. ``A quick call back is everything.’’

When Obama issued a memorandum calling for transparency, many journalists believed an access problem that went back decades would finally be resolved, said Nancy Shute, president of the National Association of Science Writers. ``We quickly realized how naive we were,’’ she said.

Reaching out to the administration for information on medicine is ``like dropping a stone into a deep, deep well,’’ said Felice Freyer, a director at the Association of Health Care Journalists. The best that reporters often get are scripted statements, she said.

Access concerns reach ``nearly every corner of the science-writing realm,’’ said Curtis Brainard, the Columbia Journalism Review’s science editor. He wrote an article in CJR’s September/October issue titled ``A Closed Door: From the EPA to the FDA, Obama fails to deliver on his promise of transparency in science.’’

In addition to being faster and more transparent, administration officials should be more willing to engage with reporters, said Seth Borenstein, science writer at The Associated Press, who moderated the event. ``We’re not monsters,’’ he said.

An administration representative declined to participate on the panel, though Brainard said he tried for more than a month to get someone to discuss the openness issue. Other sponsors of the panel included CJR, the Society of Environmental Journalists and Reporters Without Borders.