The White House has increasingly limited the access of photojournalists and cameramen covering President Barack Obama, handicapping their ability to monitor the government, a group of the country's largest news organizations says in a complaint.
"Journalists are routinely being denied the right to photograph or videotape the president while he is performing his official duties," says a letter sent to the White House on Thursday by news groups. "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."
newspapers reported that the letter was addressed to White House Press Secretary Jay Carney and signed by 38 news organizations, including all major broadcast and cable networks, wire services, Internet news outlets, and newspapers such as The New York Times and Washington Post. The White House Correspondents' Association and White House News Photographers Association also endorsed the complaint.
The organizations said the White House now blocks photojournalists from covering certain events, but then releases its own pictures and video footage from events journalists were kept from attending.
The White House defended the practice of releasing its own photos and videos, saying it is one of the ways Obama is keeping his transparency pledge because the public is allowed greater access to the administration at times when it wouldn't be logistically possible for the press to be present.
"What we've done is we've taken advantage of new technology to give the American public even greater access to behind-the-scenes footage or photographs of the president doing his job," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said. "To the American public, that's a clear win."
He chalked up the complaint to the natural tension that exists between the press and the government.
"The fact that there is a little bit of disagreement between the press corps and the White House press office about how much access the press corps should have to the president is built into the system," Earnest said at the daily White House news briefing. "If that tension didn't exist, then either you or we aren't doing our jobs."
The complaint, however, did not cite private or restricted events but dealt specifically with presidential activities that are of a "fundamentally public nature."
Examples cited in the letter included Obama's meeting with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus on July 10, a meeting with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on July 29, and a meeting with Pakistani human-rights activist Malala Yousafzai on Oct. 11.
The news organizations said that in each instance, journalists not only were not allowed to attend, but were not even made aware of the event until after it was over. The White House sent out press releases about the meetings after they were over, complete with pictures and video footage.
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Editors and the Associated Press Media Editors sent a letter to their members Thursday asking that they no longer use the White House photos and videos.
"We must accept that we, the press, have been enablers," the letter says. "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."
Tensions between the media and the administration reached a peak this year when it was revealed in May that the Justice Department had been monitoring
Associated Press reporters as well as other journalists.
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