WASHINGTON, DC – The Associated Press, Reuters, Getty Images, and other major news agencies are today refusing to distribute a White House hand-out image of the Dalai Lama meeting with President Barack Obama after the press was shut out of the event.
Only White House photographer Pete Souza was allowed to photograph the sit down.
In explaining to members why AP declined to distribute the picture, AP editors said that its policy bars distribution of hand-out photos when the news organization feels that media access to an event would have been possible, either as a group or through a pooled photo arrangement.
"Government-controlled coverage is not acceptable in societies that promote freedom," said Kathleen Carroll, executive editor of the AP. "And that is why we do not distribute government handouts of events that we believe should be open to the press and therefore the public at large.
The Washington Post, the newspaper of record in the nation's capital, is also refusing to publish the hand-out, assistant managing editor Michel du Cille said tonight.
The New York Times will also refuse to publish the picture. National picture editors Thom McGuire and David Scull said that in the normal course of going over the available pictures of the day they decided not to use the hand-out based on the newspaper's policy of not using White House staff pictures of events that the press could have had themselves if they'd had their own access. "There are rare occasions where the Times might use a White House photo for historic reasons, under exceptional circumstances, but as a rule we want our own access," Times picture editor Steve Berman said tonight.
Asked why the White House had restricted press access, White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest released the following statement: "Rather than restrict the president's meeting with the Dalai Lama to a limited group of photographers, the White House has made available a photo of the meeting at flickr.com/whitehouse to allow any individual or news outlet around the world to view and download that photo free of charge."
"In our constant striving for media access, we often encounter cases where access is denied and handout photos are offered," AP photography director Santiago Lyon said in a Facebook blog posting on AP's news page tonight. "That’s the visual equivalent of being fed a completed news story by PR firm or official as opposed to reporting it ourselves."
"We won't accept or use handout photos if we feel access would have been possible by the media, either as a group or through a pool photo arrangement. This position is particularly important to us when covering government activities in democratic nations where we believe an independent view is important," Lyon wrote.
AP's photo director said the agency will sometimes accept military handouts from situations where access is not possible or has been denied. "Recently, we accepted military handouts from the Sri Lankan army because it was a rare source of imagery from a war all but closed to media access."
Obama met with the Dalai Lama in the Map Room on the ground floor of the White House, not in the Oval Office where the president normally meets with foreign dignitaries or heads of state.
After the meeting the Dalai Lama walked outside the press room in front of the West Wing and met with reporters and was photographed in open coverage along the drive, but he was not allowed to be seen by the White House press with the President.
It's an awkward situation for the U.S. President to meet with the Dalai Lama while trying not to irritate relations with China, who view the Dalai Lama as an exiled separatist. Historically American presidents have tried to walk a tightrope by meeting with the Dalai Lama while at the same time downplaying their involvement with him.
President George H.W. Bush allowed no pictures of his 1991 talks with the Dalai Lama. President Bill Clinton avoided formal sessions altogether, choosing instead to drop by the Dalai Lama's other meetings. President George W. Bush kept his meetings under wraps also. But in 2007, he broke with tradition and appeared in public with the Dalai Lama at the U.S. Capitol to present him with a Congressional Gold Medal.
Today's denial of press access to Obama and the Dalai Lama is a little harder for the media to swallow because of the Obama administration's often-repeated promise to be "more transparent" than their predecessors.
But banning the White House press corps from an important event and releasing a hand-out photograph isn't anything new for the Obama administration either. Only hours after moving into the White House, Obama repeated his bungled oath of office with U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts (this time, with no bible) and the press didn't see that event either. Only a Souza official White House photo was handed out as proof that the event took place, and the White House was criticized for their actions then as well.