Friday, July 2, 2010

Coast Guard "criminalizing" media access to oil spill response zones

The New Orleans Times-Picayune's Chris Kirkham has been on the cutting edge of news reporting on the Deepwater Horizon disaster and ensuing oil spill.

He and other local media journalists have shocked, informed, amused and educated the public about the bumbling and stumbling federal response.

But the Obama regime's Coast Guard has decided that all that damned transparency is not such a good thing after all, and is now clamping down on public and media access to the spill response:

The Coast Guard has put new restrictions in place across the Gulf Coast that prevent the public - including news photographers and reporters covering the BP oil spill - from coming within 65 feet of any response vessels or booms on the water or on beaches.

According to a news release from the Unified Command, violation of the "safety zone" rules can result in a civil penalty of up to $40,000, and could be classified as a Class D felony. Because booms are often placed more than 40 feet on the outside of islands or marsh grasses, the 65-foot rule could make it difficult to photograph and document the impacts of oil on land and wildlife, media representatives said.

I had reservations about media claims of restricted access early on--as it seemed that some members of the media were pushing a little too hard to get the story. An ABC reporter plopped himself down on the middle of an oiled beach, popped open his webcam-enabled laptop, and proceeded to do a "live feed" of cleanup operations, right in the middle of the cleanup crew's zone. That's excessive and probably should result in an ouster.

But establishing a 65' buffer zone and criminalizing even an accidental stray into it is an off-the-chart pushback.  The public has a right to know how the spill response and cleanup is being conducted, and responsible journalists like Chris Kirkham and the Mobile Press-Register's Ben Raines have produced some of the most valuable and informative work on this disaster.

Read Chris' whole story at the link, as he also discusses some of the tribulations his colleagues have faced in getting permission for flyovers and how the 65' buffer rule makes getting access to bayous and marshes all but impossible.  They can't even get officials at the Coast Guard to meet and discuss ways of meeting both the safety needs and satisfying the public's thirst for information.  It's an absolute travesty.

Extra point: "... a spokeswoman at the joint information center for the unified command said the order was a Coast Guard-wide directive from the top."  The top?  That would be Barack Hussein Obama.  mmmm hmmmm hmmm.

Gimme some feedback in the comments.


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