DHEC responds to transparency questions regarding press briefing strategy

Updated: Feb. 11, 2021 at 5:38 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Since late November, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control has required reporters to submit questions hours ahead of scheduled press briefings where DHEC officials are made available for comment on the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccine distribution.

The press briefings are held virtually, and for many months they included some time for a live question and answer segment among reporters and DHEC officials.

However, DHEC officials said that changed because “just opening the call to Q&A like we had in the past let [sic] to multiple reporters speaking over top of each other and several reporters who joined the call late asking questions that our medical officials had already answered.”

Media attorney Jay Bender questioned the strategy and said it limits the press’s ability to follow up when an official doesn’t specifically respond to a certain issue or doesn’t fully answer a question.

“If you give any agency that wants to look good the opportunity, it will answer only the favorable questions and it won’t answer the hard questions that might subject it to criticism,” Bender said.

Officials with the state’s Joint Information Center said they respond to 90 percent of all media queries within 24 hours and receive 15 to 50 media requests per day from state, national, and international outlets.

“Out of respect for reporters’ deadlines and our public health officials’ time, we typically don’t ask city- or county-specific questions that are of interest to only two or three outlets and instead ensure we’re asking the most frequently submitted questions and questions that affect the overall state. All city- or county-specific media questions not addressed during the media briefings, or any questions we don’t have time to ask, are responded to by way of the state’s Joint Information Center,” JIC officials said.

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