Wick Communications

The president’s visual releases

In First Amendment on November 21, 2013 at 3:43 pm
This is not the president of the United States as he wouldn't let us take a photo.

This is not the president of the United States as he wouldn’t let us take a photo.

A coalition including the American Society of News Editors and the Associated Press Media Editors decided to pick an interesting fight on Thursday. Or, more correctly, some of the country’s most prominent news leaders decided to take a stand in a fight initiated by the White House several years ago.

They are calling on the White House to allow greater access for press photographers and, significantly, for newspapers like ours to stop using provided photos from the White House.

In a letter to White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, the coalition is asking for a restoration of the old rules for photographers and the president. The press is asking that it be allowed to cover all public events and notes in the letter that the White House has been dodging this requirement (which is clearly spelled out in relevant case law) by suggesting many public events are private.

To put it politely, that’s a bunch of hooey. The letter references, for example, a July 30 meeting between the president and Israeli and Palestinian negotiators as one of many events from which photographers were excluded. That is clearly an event that carries significant public interest. And that is one of only dozens of examples.

The letter also clearly states that the press is not asking for access to the residence and that we know some matters of national security are off limits. …

The press coalition – which also includes McClatchy, Lee and Gannett newspapers – suggests that the White House-issued photos of these events amount to visual press releases. It notes that most responsible editors wouldn’t merely print a White House press release as-is and asks why we would publish one of these photos.

That’s a good point.

I guess my feeling about whether we should publish these publicity photos is evolving. I’m absolutely sympathetic to the concerns outlined in the letter to the White House. Historic things occur around the president and documenting them shouldn’t be left to political public relations teams or even the professional photographers in the White House. I’m not sure that not publishing the photos will have the desired effect on the White House. Nevertheless, I am sure that we should continue to press for greater press access to our president.

Clay

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