WASHINGTON (AP) – Dozens of news organizations protested to the White House on Thursday against restrictions that sometimes keep journalists from taking pictures and video of President Barack Obama performing official duties. At the same time, 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.''
"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 adds that the represent a major break from the practices of past administrations.
The news organizations said the White House limits on access raise constitutional concerns about infringement on First Amendment press freedoms and have "a direct and adverse impact on the public's ability to independently monitor and see what its government is doing.''
The press coalition, which included The Associated Press, said the access limits also undercut Obama's pledge to create a more transparent government.
The groups requested an immediate meeting with 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 ASNE-APME letter states. "We urge those of you in news organizations 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 AP has a policy against using handout photos from the White House unless they are of significant news value and shot in areas that the press doesn't expect to have access to, such as the Situation Room or the private residence areas of the White House.
Obama spokesman Josh Earnest cast the news organizations' protests as part of the natural tension that exists 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.
Among recent events for which the White House distributed its own photos but denied access to photojournalists:
_An Oct. 11 meeting with Pakistani human rights activist Malala Yousafzai.
_An Aug. 26 meeting with African-American faith leaders.
_A July 30 meeting with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators and Vice President Joe Biden.
_A July 29 meeting with former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham 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 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.''