White House Does It Again: Photographers Shut Out Of Dalai Lama Meeting

By Donald R. Winslow

WASHINGTON, DC (February 21, 2014) - Despite repeated and sometimes heated objections, despite meetings where the White House Press Secretary promised to make positive changes, and despite pressure from a media coalition who again and again have objected to the lack of access independent journalists have to President Barack Obama, today they've gone and done it again.

The White House has again denied independent press photographers' requests to photograph President Obama. And this time it was of a newsworthy meeting that had global interest and importance, a sit down at the White House with the Dalai Lama.

This morning the White House schedule said:

10:00AM The President will meet with His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Map Room

Closed Press

"I think the White House grand strategy is to talk us to death and do nothing," White House News Photographers Association president Ron Sachs said this afternoon.

NPPA has been a consistent objector to this administration's policy of closing access to independent photojournalists, and their insistent urging for the press using a White House hand-out, the visual version of a corporate press release. Sadly, many major media outlets continue to publish the White House hand-outs in the face of competitive fears. Time.com by itself has hundreds of photographic bylines on its Web site for pictures shot by Obama's personal White House staff photographer, Pete Souza. 

"NPPA is deeply disappointed that – despite promises by the White House to work with news organizations to improve access to newsworthy events involving the President – they barred independent photo coverage of today's meeting with the Dalai Lama, only to issue their own photograph of the event a short time later," NPPA general counsel Mickey H. Osterreicher said. Osterreicher represented NPPA in a meeting with Press Secretary Jay Carney at the White House last December where Carney promised more access.

"If the White House had true diplomatic concerns about how this meeting would impact on relations with China, it would made have more sense to have the independent press release their pictures instead of the White House releasing one of its own," Osterreicher said. 

Reuters and the Associated Press have refused to distribute the White House photograph taken by White House staff photographer Souza, who posted it today on the White House Flickr feed and Twitter.

"We requested independent access to the meeting between the president and the Dalai Lama both verbally and in writing but were refused," Associated Press vice president and director of photography Santiago Lyon said. "No official reason was given. The White House later released a photo of the meeting taken by a government photographer. The AP will not be distributing that photograph to our customers because we strongly believe that access was possible and should have been permitted."

"A government photographer is no substitute for an independent, experienced photojournalist," the White House News Photographers Association said today in a released statement.

"We are disappointed the White House has reverted to their old strategy of announcing a closed press event and then later releasing their own photo. The WHNPA also urges news organizations to refrain from publishing and circulating this handout photo, which is a visual press release of a newsworthy event."

Read earlier coverage of this topic online here.