CDC Media Guidance Blacklists VOA Interview Requests

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention email released under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) tells communications staff to ignore media requests from Voice of America, according to documents published by the Knight First Amendment Institute.Documents released under the FOIA include an April 30 email sent from Michawn Rich with the subject “Rundown.” The email describes a CDC media request process to help a co-worker named Rachel to “navigate [her] new role.”Rich, a Department of Agriculture spokesperson, was moved to the CDC to help handle communications related to the pandemic earlier this year, FILE – Vice President Mike Pence speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, in Washington, April 17, 2020.The Knight Institute said the lawsuit came in response to reports alleging that CDC experts were being prevented from speaking with the press or public and had been told to coordinate with the Vice President’s Office before speaking with journalists.“We brought this lawsuit because we were concerned about the politicization of public health messaging and we thought it was critical for the public to know if and how the administration was stage-managing CDC communications, so that the public was able to judge for themselves the accuracy of any statements,” Anna Diakun, staff attorney of the Knight First Amendment Institute, told VOA.“From the documents we’ve received so far, the Office of the Vice President’s role has been totally redacted, so it is impossible for us to know exactly what role that office is playing,” she said.The Knight Institute is to receive more documents on June 18 that Diakun said the center hopes will address what role if any the Vice President’s Office played.The Vice President’s Office declined VOA’s request for comment.“What may be unusual is that it’s been exposed, I don’t know if it’s unusual.” Van Susteren said of the alleged blacklisting.“No administration, whether it’s Obama, Bush 41, or Clinton or anybody going back has liked the media,” she said. “But I’ve been at all these news organizations and I have never had this happen to me before.”Trump’s VOA Criticism Shows US-Funded News Doesn’t Mean US-ApprovedPublic dispute highlights unique position of government-funded, editorially independent journalismVOA Director Bennett said it was difficult to determine the effect the CDC ban may have had on the international broadcaster’s coverage of the pandemic.“Efforts such as those outlined in the CDC memo can result in the kind of chilling effect on our journalism that we regularly see in the markets we broadcast to that have no free press – including in China and Russia,” she said in a statement.Diakun said the Knight Institute was concerned to see from the FOIA request that CDC staff were told to ignore press queries from VOA. “It is imperative that the CDC ensures steady and timely access to information, especially in the midst of a public health crisis,” she told VOA.
 

June 15th, 2020 by
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