Agency public affairs offices obstruct flow of information, says survey
An overwhelming percentage of reporters who cover federal agencies say that public affairs offices do a better job of preventing the flow of information than facilitating it.
That's according to a survey released March 12 of 146 reporters who cover federal agencies sponsored by the Society of Professional Journalists in anticipation of Sunshine Week, the annual mid-March transparency awareness push spearheaded by the American Society of News Editors and Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
The survey has a margin of error of 7 percentage points. Even so, many of the responses leave no doubt as to how most reporters perceive public affairs offices. For example, 85 percent strongly or somewhat agree that "the public is not getting all the information it needs because of barriers agencies are imposing on journalists' reporting practices."
Seventy-six percent of respondents say they're supposed to get approval from agency public affairs officials before interviewing agency personnel all or most of the time.
Fifty-three percent say that public affairs officials monitor interviews either all or most of the time. Only 37 percent, however, say that agency public affairs officers respond quickly to requests for information and interviews all or most of the time.
Added one reporter in a survey section left for comments, "[Public affairs officers] act as gatekeepers. And they are very rarely completely helpful or forthcoming."
When it comes to assessing the nature of relationships with agency public affairs offices, however, 70 percent say they have a "positive working relationship" with them.
The survey was conducted by Carolyn Carlson, an assistant professor of communication at Georgia's Kennesaw State University, and David Cuillier, school of journalism director at the University of Arizona-Tucson, on behalf of the Society of Professional Journalists Freedom of Information Committee.
- download the survey (.pdf)