I really hate to keep posting public relations and the government topics. There are so many other topics and events out there to cover.
But, we are living in a time when our profession is being pushed front and center in a way that we probably never would imagine, especially in the U.S. where we are guaranteed freedom of speech and the press.
But so far this week, we’ve had the White House Press Secretary (WHPS) criticize the press without engaging them, and a former presidential campaign manager and current presidential consultant use the term “alternative facts” in describing the WHPS’, and most likely our president’s, perception of inauguration crowd size.
Phew! It’s a lot to take in. But, wait. There’s more.
Probably the most important thing that has happened in regards to public relations this week is that governmental agencies are being ordered to not release any public information via the press, social media or verbally without the consent of the White House.
It started on Friday night, the day of President Trump’s inauguration with the White House halting the Department of the Interior’s and its sub-agency the National Park Service’s social media posts unless it was a matter of public safety. The temporary ban came after a NPS staffer retweeted a crowd size comparison photo of the inauguration on the NPS’ account.
I know it sounded bad, for the White House to do this, but I was willing to give Sean Spicer and the White House the benefit of the doubt on this one. After all, it’s the job of the WHPS to make sure that all agency messages are coordinated with the president’s, and they had only just taken office. It’s expected that a slow-down of information would take place during the initial hours of the transition of power.
What’s not expected is a complete gag order.
The Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Health and Human Services, and Department of Agriculture have been added to the Department of the Interior as agencies who have been issued limitations of public communications from the White House.
It seems as if the White House has declared war on public relations and public affairs, especially on agencies that generally disagree with President Trump’s opinions and policies. What’s even more, is that we have a WHPS and public relations consultant upholding the idea that it’s okay to keep a gag order in place. I expect more from members of my own profession.
According to several news sources there are to be no “public facing” documents including, but not limited to news releases, photos, fact sheets, news feeds, speaking engagements, webinars and social media content from any of these agencies.
We don’t know how long this gag order will be in place.
All of these agencies are funded by tax-payer dollars, and the public has a right to have up-to-date information about the goings on without censorship. We have the right to receive this information in a timely manner, without having to make an official request through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) of 1967.
However, under the current climate at the White House, the FOIA is the only way we can receive this information. And that requires a lot of red tape.
“Agencies typically process requests in the order of receipt. The time it takes to respond to a request will vary depending on the complexity of the request and the backlog of requests already pending at the agency. A simple request can be processed faster by the agency than one that is complex. Simple requests are typically more targeted and seek fewer pages of records. Complex requests typically seek a high volume of material or require additional steps to process such as the need to search for records in multiple locations. The agency’s FOIA Requester Service Center is available to assist you with any questions about the status of your request or any steps you can take to receive a quicker response.” – FOIA website
I imagine that the agencies FOIA offices will be buried with requests from the press and private citizens, creating a backlog that they will have a hard time unearthing from.
It’s reasonable to expect that the White House and its press secretary would want to coordinate messages. It’s not reasonable when they suggest “alternative facts” are the norm. The press cannot do it’s job when we are given selective news when the public relations managers and public affairs specialists are issued gag orders.
The agency gag order issued by the White House is not a partisan issue. It’s an issue that no one should accept or sit idly by and watch happen.
I will leave you with these sentiments:
“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” – Thomas Jefferson
“Freedom of conscience, of education, or speech, of assembly are among the very fundamentals of democracy and all of them would be nullified should freedom of the press ever be successfully challenged.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt
“Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.” – Louis Brandeis
“We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is afraid of its people.” – John F. Kennedy
“The First Amendment is often inconvenient. But that is beside the point. Inconvenience does not absolve the government of its obligation to tolerate speech.” – Justice Anthony Kennedy
“A democracy ceases to be a democracy if its citizens do not participate in its governance. To participate intelligently, they must know what their government has done, is doing and plans to do in their name. Whenever any hindrance, no matter what its name, is placed in the way of this information, a democracy is weakened, and its future endangered. This is the meaning of freedom of press. It is not just important to democracy, it is democracy.” – Walter Cronkite