WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House said Thursday that President Barack Obama wants to address growing media protests about limited access to his events, including restricted coverage of his trip to South Africa with former President George W. Bush.
In recent weeks, dozens of leading news organizations have protested restrictions that sometimes keep journalists from taking pictures and video of Obama performing official duties while the White House releases pictures taken by the president's staff.
The objections dominated Thursday's White House briefing, after this week's release of government photos from Obama's trip to South Africa for former President Nelson Mandela's memorial service. The package included pictures of Obama and Bush traveling on Air Force One along with their wives and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, when news photographers on board were not allowed to take pictures of the historic flight.
While Obama had promised to lead the most transparent administration in history, press secretary Jay Carney acknowledged there have been times when the White House could have provided more access.
"From the president on down — and I mean that — there is absolute agreement that there is no substitute for a free and independent press reporting on a presidency, the White House, on Congress, on the government," Carney said. "It's essential, essential. And that includes photography. And we will continue to work with photographers to address their concerns. So let me be clear — that is the view from the very top."
Carney said he has been meeting with representatives of the White House Correspondents' Association on the issue and will continue to do so, but he predicted reporters will never be fully satisfied.
"We're going to work on finding ways to be responsive and provide more access," Carney said. "What I can promise you, though, is that there will continue to be occasions with this president, as there have been with every one of his 43 predecessors, where there are meetings and events and moments that are not covered by the outside press."
The Associated Press has been among those news outlets complaining about the lack of access. In an opinion piece published in The New York Times, AP's vice president and director of photography, Santiago Lyon, argued that the photographs taken and released by the White House of intimate presidential moments are "visual news releases" that portray the president in the best possible light.
"By no stretch of the imagination are these images journalism," he wrote. "Rather, they propagate an idealized portrayal of events on Pennsylvania Avenue."
"If you take this practice to its logical conclusion, why have news conferences?" Lyon asked. "Why give reporters any access to the White House? It would be easier to just have a daily statement from the president (like his recorded weekly video address) and call it a day. Repressive governments do this all the time."
Carney argued that the Obama White House's move toward distributing its own photographs through social media is part of an Internet revolution.
"This is part of a bigger transformation that's happening out there that's driven by the ability of everyone to post anything on the Internet free of charge so that you don't have to buy that newspaper or subscribe to that wire service to see that photograph," he said.
Steve Thomma, president of the White House Correspondents' Association, said the organization has had two meetings on the matter with Obama's press staff and is scheduling another hopefully by the end of the year with the broad media consortium that wrote to complain about the situation.
He said the organization regrets that the White House kept journalists onboard Air Force One from witnessing and recording the meeting of the presidents and first ladies while releasing photos by Obama's staff photographer.
"We understand that the memorial service in South Africa was not under the control of the White House. We thank the staff for working to get our pool inside the stadium after local officials originally said all pools would be held off site," Thomma said, who is senior White House correspondent and political editor for McClatchy Newspapers. "But Air Force One is U.S. territory, our pool was aboard, and inviting them in for even a few moments would have been easy and the right thing to do." A pool consists of a limited number of reporters, photographers and others who cover an event for the entire media.
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