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TU Global: Give photojournalists their rights

24 November 2013 By Jake Ulick, Columnist No Comments

This is the type of issue that gets me excited. News about the news in a way…meta-journalism. I shall explain.

Recently, the White House has been denying photojournalists the right to cover certain events and arbitrarily infamous White House happenings on the grounds that that many of these are “private events” and that it’s not possible in terms of security and logistics to allow the unfettered access of an array of camera lenses.

Maybe that’s a logical rationale. The President doesn’t want to be harassed by a swarm of photographers waiting to catch him in unflattering light or worse…the favorite accusatory past-time of Americans who dislike Obama: catching him playing golf.

It seems to be a bit more complicated than that though. Senior officials along with the help of White House photographer of now six years, Pete Souza, take pictures of these events that photojournalists have historically had access to and post them all over social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and even Flickr…yes the White House has a Flickr account).

This past Thursday the White House Correspondents’ Association submitted a letter signed by signed by 37 other news organization to the administration’s press secretary Jay Carney to make their case against this unprecedented contraction of the public’s view.

These new limitations, as the letter says, represent “a troubling precedent with a direct and adverse impact on the public’s ability to independently monitor and see what its government is doing.”

During a White House briefing, deputy spokesman Josh Earnest contended that, “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.”

He added, “to the American public, that is a clear win.”

Even worse, a recent “White House Photo of the Day” from last week pictured a group of photographers capturing the image of President Obama signing a bill. The picture was released not long after journalists had raised their voices on the issue of photo access and was widely realized as a very subtle finger between the ring and the index toward the media.

Like I’ve said in the past, I often have a hard time finding myself in a position where I have a concrete opinion about something. But this is a bit much. I’m not conspiratorially saying that the President is growing weed or harboring fugitives under his desk in the Oval Office. But not allowing photojournalists to cover an event deemed private and then subsequently publishing a photo online from the event seems contradictory. I’m pretty sure there’s a hint of something called a conflict of interest there.

With the public already so concerned about privacy, transparency and potential abuses of power, the last thing the administration should be doing is shunning news organizations from naturally capturing the President and other White House officials in photo on a regular basis. The President should be more of a public figure than he should be behind closed doors, in private meetings or events where only in-house staff is allowed to photograph him.

We cannot forget the important role photography plays in a democratic society and substitute it with only our text-based knowledge of “just the facts.” It is, in a way, the pure essence of government transparency for photography provides a third dimension to words that often saturate us with little face or meaning to them.


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