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Media outrage at Obama photo curbs

Dozens of news organisations have protested to the White House about restrictions that sometimes keep journalists from taking pictures and video of President Barack Obama performing official duties.

Meanwhile two press groups urged their members to stop using official photos and video handed out by the White House, dismissing them as little more than "government propaganda".

The news organisations' letter to White House press secretary Jay Carney gave a number of examples in which photographers were not allowed to cover events deemed "private" by the administration - even though the White House indicated their news worth by releasing its own photos of the events.

"As surely as if they were placing a hand over a journalist's camera lens, officials in this administration are blocking the public from having an independent view of important functions of the executive branch of government," the letter says.

It added that the policy represented a major break from the practices of past governments.

The press groups said the White House limits on access raised constitutional concerns about infringement on First Amendment press freedoms and had "a direct and adverse impact on the public's ability to independently monitor and see what its government is doing".

The groups said the restrictions also undercut Mr Obama's pledge to create a more transparent government and requested an immediate meeting with Mr Carney on how to restore full press access.

Simultaneously, the presidents of the American Society of News Editors and the Associated Press Media Editors sent a letter to their members urging them to stop using handout photos and video from the White House.

"We must accept that we, the press, have been enablers," the letter states. "We urge those of you in news organisations to immediately refrain from publishing any of the photographs or videos released by the White House, just as you would refuse to run verbatim a press release from them."

The Associated Press news agency has a policy against using handout photos from the White House unless they are of significant news value and shot in areas to which the press does not expect to have access, such as the Situation Room or the private residence areas of the White House.

Obama spokesman Josh Earnest said the protests were part of the natural tension between journalists and those they cover. "If that tension didn't exist, then either you or we aren't doing our jobs," he told reporters.

Recent events for which the White House distributed its own photos but denied access to photojournalists included a meeting with young Pakistani human rights activist Malala Yousafzai; African-American faith leaders; Israeli and Palestinian negotiators and US vice president Joe Biden; and a July 29 meeting with former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton.

"We aren't asking to make pictures of the president putting on his socks in the private quarters every morning," said Kathleen Carroll, AP's executive editor and senior vice president.

"We are asking simply to be allowed back into the room when he signs legislation, shakes hands with other leaders, and otherwise discharges his public duties."



From Belfast Telegraph