White House Limits Reporters to Press Room, Toilets

Under new rules introduced Monday, journalists are no longer free to walk around the White House meeting government officials.

Reporters are now limited to the White House press center and the neighboring bathrooms, and to reach the press center from the building's entrance they must be accompanied by security personnel, Nezavisimaya Gazeta reported.

From now on, they will only be allowed to meet officials in scheduled briefings or to ask questions by fax or e-mail, RBC Daily reported, citing Anton Vaino, deputy head of the White House administration.

Previously, reporters accredited to cover the White House could roam the corridors and hold unscheduled meetings with officials. The new rules resemble the ones that have long applied to the Kremlin press pool.

A woman who answered the telephone at the White House press service said Monday that she could not comment by phone and asked that questions be submitted in writing.

Media reports suggested that the new rules were linked to the imminent arrival of Vladimir Putin, who is expected to become prime minister and move to the White House in May.

The new rules represent a further tightening of control that began with last year's appointment of Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov. In October, Zubkov eliminated live television broadcasts of Cabinet meetings. The next month, RBC Daily reported that Zubkov had banned lower-level officials from speaking to reporters. An unidentified official was quoted in the article as saying: "The press has the right to walk to the press service and from the buffet to the toilet. What else do they need?" Anastasia Samotorova, the RBC reporter who wrote the article, left her job in December, saying she had been forced out after the White House put pressure on her employers. RBC denied the allegation.