Journalist: Health and Human Services new media policy ‘Soviet-style power grab’

C.J. Ciaramella Contributor
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The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has released new guidelines for employees dealing with reporters, and some journalists are none too pleased about it.

The new media policy requires all HHS employees to notify the agency’s office of public affairs about contact with the media and coordinate any interview requests with the office. It also discourages off-the-record conversations without prior approval.

Jim Dickinson, editor of FDA Webview and FDA Review, issued a scathing critique of the new guidelines. In an email to Richard Sorian, assistant secretary of public affairs at DHS, Dickinson said the guidelines would make reporting anything but the agency’s spin next to impossible.

“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,” Dickinson wrote. “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.”

“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,” Dickinson continued. “They expand the comfort zones of the powerful.”

A spokesperson at the HHS was not aware of the issue. When asked if Sorian was available for comment, the spokesperson directed TheDC to send an email to the public affairs office. Thus far, there has been no response to the e-mail.

When called later on, Sorian’s office said he was not available. An email to Sorian was also not returned.

Upon entering office, President Obama pledged to run the most transparent and open administration in history.

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