The Department of Health and Human Services’ just-released media policy makes it official that staff members and reporters are forbidden to speak to each other without reporting to public information officers and supervisors. The rules have “formalized a creeping information-control mechanism that informally began during the Clinton Administration and was accelerated by the Bush and Obama administrations,” writes FDA Webview & FDA Review editor Jim Dickinson.
Go on, Jim.
The new formal HHS Guidelines on the Provision of Information to the News Media represent, to this 36-year veteran of reporting FDA news, a Soviet-style power-grab. By requiring all HHS employees to arrange their information-sharing with news media through their agency press office, HHS has formalized a creeping information-control mechanism that informally began during the Clinton Administration and was accelerated by the Bush and Obama administrations. The U.S. now takes a large step toward joining other information-controlling countries like my native Australia, where government employees who talk with the news media without permission commit a federal crime. I came to the U.S. in 1974 to escape this oppression.
Red and bold mine. Wait, one more.
The fostering of exclusive, confidential sources inside government agencies is the essence of good investigative journalism, and is the rationale for having the First Amendment’s guarantee of a free press. Our job is to keep a penetrating spotlight on government agencies and employees that prefer to operate untransparently, at their own pace and on their own agendas, without interference from outside. By taking control of who says what to whom and when, these new guidelines strike a heavy blow against the full, unfettered First Amendment rights of both HHS employees and the news media. They expand the comfort zones of the powerful.
I don’t know why Jim is that surprised, though. After all, this is the same administration that launched the completely ludicrous “Attack Watch” where you can rat out people that you think are wrong about things. I like to think that if there had been an internet in the ‘70s, this is how the Stasi would have used it.