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Safety commission's restrictions on access lead to protest

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Safety commission's restrictions on access lead to protest 12/02/96

Safety commission’s restrictions on access lead to protest

12/02/96

WASHINGTON, D.C.–A new Consumer Products Safety Commission policy requiring that all media inquiries be handled by the public affairs office and limiting press access to staff members has prompted complaints by a newsletter that covers the agency. However, the Commission denies that reporters can’t reach staff members and defends the practice as “the most efficient use of resources.” Spokespersons also said the policy of coordinating inquiries is standard practice at government agencies.

According to Maureen Cislo, a reporter with the Product Safety Letter, her calls to CPSC staff for information are directed to deputy press secretary Richard Frost, who either takes down her questions and gets back to her with an answer, or selects the staff member with whom Cislo can speak. According to Cislo, the policy inhibits her ability to acquire technical information and to ask follow-up questions.

In a letter to CPSC Chairman Ann Brown, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press asked her to reconsider the policy, stating that CPSC has a compelling interest in maintaining public confidence in the system that is undermined by limiting press access to staff.

In a separate letter, Terrence Scanlon, the longest-serving CPSC chairman, wrote that it was “surprising and distressing to learn … that you have ended a 23-year tradition of openness at CPSC by barring the media from direct contacts with most agency staffers.” CPSC founding chairman Richard Simpson, who served from 1973-76, has also criticized the policy.

In a November 7 written response to the Reporters Committee, Kathleen Begala, director of the CPSC Office of Information and Public Affairs, stated that the Reporters Committee had been misinformed about the agency’s policy. According to Begala, it is “completely incorrect” to say that reporters are not permitted to speak directly with CPSC staff, because the press office staff “routinely connect” journalists with technical staff when “appropriate.”

In a letter to David Swit, publisher of the Product Safety Letter, CPSC Deputy Executive Director Clarence Bishop justified its coordination of inquiries through the press office because it enables the agency to do “more with less.” Bishop asserted that, in responding to media inquiries, the press office “call[s] on other staff as needed.”

Brown has served as chairman since March 1994.