White House press secretary Jay Carney on Thursday vowed to work on providing “more access” after a contentious briefing where members of the press corps questioned the limits on photojournalists during President Obama's recent trip to South Africa.
“We are working and have been working on expanding access where we can,” Carney said.
During his daily briefing, reporters slammed Carney with questions on why independent news journalists were not afforded opportunities to photograph Obama during the lengthy Air Force One trips to and from a memorial service for Nelson Mandela.
The White House only released photos aboard Air Force One taken by official White House photographer Pete Souza.
“We're going to work with the press and with the photographers to, you know, try to address some of their concerns,” Carney added, but cautioned that concerns over access were common in every administration.
“We will not create a day that has never existed, at least in modern times, when everyone in the White House press corps is satisfied with the amount of access they get to the president. That would be, I think, impossible to expect,” he said.
“For a lot of those hours, the president, former president, first lady and the former first lady were asleep, so we probably weren't going to bring in a still pool for that, or they were having dinner or something like that,” said Carney.
He also said that the White House had “gone to great lengths to get as much access for all of our traveling press as we could … in fact got exceptionally more access for our traveling press than we were told we would get.”
The controversy over access to photojournalists has been brewing, with the White House Correspondents’ Association and other media groups writing a public letter demanding that the administration end its practice of blocking private journalists from covering many events.
The Associated Press' director of photography Santiago Lyon in a New York Times op-ed also blasted the White House media practices as “Orwellian image control” and said that official administration photographs were similar to “propaganda.”
White House officials though say that as with past administrations, not all events — even those of news value — are public or necessitate media access.
Reporters say the lack of access undercuts the Obama’s vow to run the most transparent administration in history.
Carney said that previous administrations had faced similar criticisms.
“The tension between White Houses and White House press corps over access is long-standing,” he said.
But he added that the current flare-up also stemmed from new technology and that independent media outlets were concerned about “competition” from White House photographers.
“There are new technological developments, the Internet, that make the way that theses images are disseminated different from how it was done in the past,” said Carney.
Carney, who worked as a reporter before joining the administration, said he appreciated the concerns of the press.
“I personally, as someone who was a reporter for 21 years, have a great deal of passion about this issue, and believe strongly in the necessity of a free and independent press to cover the White House, the government, Washington,” he said.
Carney also said that the president understood the concerns over the issue.
From the president on down there is absolute agreement that there is no substitute for a free and independent press,” he said. “It’s essential.”
“That is the view from the very top,” Carney added.
White House correspondent Brian Hughes contributed.