At its first public hearing in June, the FDA's new Transparency Task Force heard diverse ideas ranging from greater news media access to FDA staff to separate consumer and professional web portals to writing legal documents in consumer-friendly language.
One of the most forceful presentations came from freelance healthcare journalist Kathryn Foxhall, who protested restrictions on reporters' access to FDA staff that she said significantly hinders the ability of the news media to do its job. This has been the subject of complaints from the Society of Professional Journalists and the Association of Healthcare Journalists. Restrictions in place represent “severe censorship,” she declared.
In the past, she said, reporters were able to work agency beats by walking the halls, stopping to talk with and develop relations with staff at all levels, identifying over time those sources who were able to provide the kinds of education and information that they needed to write stories of use to their audiences. But through changes made in the last two presidential administrations, she said, it can now take days to get permission to talk with someone and increasingly permission is never granted.
Anyone calling an FDA staffer should get the same level of help and service, she said, whether from an industry, the news media, a consumer group or a congressional committee.