US President Barack Obama signs H.R. 2747: Streamlining Claims Processing for Federal Contractor Employees Act, and S. 893: Veterans Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2013, in the Oval Office of the White House on November 21, 2013 in Washington, DC. UPI/Olivier Douliery/Pool | License Photo
WASHINGTON, Nov. 22 (UPI) -- Photographers covering U.S. President Obama are protesting what they say is the White House's barring "an independent view" of events involving the president.
The White House Correspondents' Association and 37 news organizations submitted a letter to White House press secretary Jay Carney Thursday, protesting what photographers term the ever-increasing administration practice of excluding them from events involving the president then releasing its own photos or video, Politico reported.
"As surely as if they were placing a hand over a journalist's camera lens," the letter read, "officials in this administration are blocking the public from having an independent view of important functions of the executive branch of government."
The administration uses social media to get its message to the public beyond traditional news media, with senior officials tweeting and blogging items and chief White House photographer Pete Souza often posting presidential photos on social media websites minutes after they are taken.
The White House said it wasn't logistically feasible for photographers to have access to all events, Politico said.
Deputy spokesman Josh Earnest said, "We've taken advantage of new technology to give the American public even greater access to behind-the-scenes footage or photographs of the president doing his job."
"I understand why that is a source of some consternation to the people in this room," Earnest said Thursday during the daily media briefing. "But to the American public, that is a clear win."
The letter cited seven recent examples of events from which photographers were banned. Administration officials have said the instances cited were private -- but a White House photographer shot the events and posted pictures on Flickr or other social media sites, the Times said.
"They're excluding photographers from events at the White House, which is a problem in and of itself," said Steve Thomma, White House Correspondents' Association president. "But now they're sending in their photographers and video crews and then releasing the photos and video. That sets up their own media operation."
Tensions between photographers and the White House have percolating some time, flaring during Obama's summer visit to South Africa, when photographers were allowed to take one shot of the president in Nelson Mandela's jail cell on Robben Island, but were excluded from the cell when he hugged his daughter Sasha. That image was captured by Souza and widely distributed.
Doug Mills, a Times photographer, said during a meeting between Carney and board members of the White House Correspondents' Association, the press secretary was shown photos they said illustrated the problem.
"I said, 'Jay, this is just like Tass,'" Mills said, referring to the Russian state news agency. "It's like government-controlled use of the public image of the president."