A controversy is brewing in the White House and it has nothing to do with partisan politics. Credentialed photographers who are paid to cover the events of the White House are frustrated with their lack of access to President Barack Obama.
The White House has made a habit of declaring an event to be closed to the media for national security reasons. However, the official White House photographer, Pete Souza, will still take pictures of the event that was closed off to the media and release them later.
This practice is a major indictment on the freedom of the press. If credentialed White House media cannot be allowed to be present at an event, then Pete Souza also should not be allowed to take photographs and release them to the public via Facebook, Flickr and Instagram, among other outlets.
With the White House electing to close off events to the media and opting to release photographs taken by their own photographer, this limits the transparency of the White House itself and places shackles on the freedom of the press.
The White House countered that it is not reasonable to give photographers access to every event.
Using national security as an explanation to close events at the White House to the media is more than justified. But using national security as a guise to limit media access is not fair. If an event truly is a matter of national security, then the White House should not turn around after the fact and release its own photos. Either something is a definitive matter of national security and no media are present at all, or all members of the media should be allowed.
It’s also dangerous. The administration is going down a slippery slope and creating a new precedent for how the White House will deal with the media. Independent reporters argue the White House is replacing news agency photographers with its own government photographers. This is the United States of America, where freedom of the press is a constitutional right.
Controlling the release of certain images allows the White House to craft its own image and fuel its own propaganda. This practice is eerily and frighteningly similar to communist, socialist and other authoritarian, dictatorial governments.
Thirty-eight major independent news organizations protested the White House as a result of its polices on photographers and the use of its own White House photographers.
They wrote in a letter to White House Press Secretary Jay Carney expressing their viewpoint: “As surely as if they were placing a hand over 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 media’s letter to Carney provided seven recent examples of newsworthy events that photographers were banned from, including meetings with African American faith leaders, Pakistani human rights activist Malala Yousafzai, and members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
In all cases, a White House photographer recorded the event and posted the pictures on social media sites.
The government should not control the image of the president or what is seen from inside the White House. Freedom of the press dictates that Americans deserve to have their government covered by independent media members and not from the government itself. The White House needs to show more transparency and allow the media to fully cover the administration to ensure the viability of America’s democracy.