WASHINGTON—A coalition of press freedom groups today called on the White House to end the practice of periodically barring the use of video and live audio recordings of the White House daily press briefings. In a letter, PEN America, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Free Press, the National Press Photographers Association, Reporters Without Borders, and the Society of Professional Journalists expressed fear that recent off-camera and off-mic briefings are an attempt by the Trump administration to further decrease transparency and the American public’s access to information.

Over the last two weeks, the White House has barred reporters from using video and audio recordings of certain briefings, banned cameras altogether, or requested that outlets not use audio recordings of the briefings until they have concluded. Under the policy, the frequency of televised briefings has dropped from several each week to only one a week in June. With limited exceptions, the daily briefings have been televised regularly for more than two decades, under administrations from both parties. This practice is of particular concern in light of the sustained pattern of hostility and contempt shown by the administration towards the news media, and the alarming instances of government officials threatening, or even assaulting, members of the press.  

“The whole point of the White House press briefing is to give the public a window into the White House, and for citizens to be able to gauge, face-to-televised-face, the trustworthiness of the people we put there,” said Gabe Rottman, PEN America’s Washington director. “We fear that closing the press briefings to video and audio is just another darkening of that window into our government. It’s a mistake on which we urge the White House to reverse its position.”

The letter also notes that the decision to bar video and audio in certain briefings is of a piece with other steps to diminish government transparency and media access. Though President Trump has held perfunctory press briefings with foreign leaders, he has not held a full press conference since February. Similarly, previously public documents such as the daily schedule are being labeled “non-reportable,” and the White House ended the practice of publicly posting White House visitor logs online.

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