Monday, July 12, 2010

Coast Guard's Reversal On Press Restrictions

The Coast Guard has reversed its restriction on the press!

I just received an email from the Joint information Center: "NEW ORLEANS -- National Incident Commander Admiral Thad Allen today announced new procedures to allow media free travel within the 20-meter boom safety zones if they have followed simple procedures for credentialing, and provided they follow certain rules and guidelines."

The Coast Guard's about face comes just after I finished writing my latest blog entry. It is important for everyone to know what the Coast Guard did and why it was wrong. For a while I thought I was living in a police state run by corporate interests, which added to the horror of the BP oil disaster. I embrace the Coast Guard's reversal.

I went out with wildlife and fishery agents on July 3rd to get around the new restrictions. As of June 30th, you have to keep 65 feet away from booms or cleanup vessels. We inspected two protected rookeries, Cat Island and Queen Bess. Absorbent boom full of oil washed up on the shore of the islands. I saw only one boat with two men working on fixing the boom at Queen Bess Island. Could it has been that BP private contractors wanted the 4th of July off, just likemost federal employees? If I were handling BP's PR, I'd put cleanup crews on overtime andmake sure bird rookeries were cleaned up. A more effective way to stop the disseminationof images of dying creatures might be to stop the oil from getting to the birds' habitat in the first place. And then there'd be no need to take away the media's first amendment rights.

The pictures that most damage BP's image are those of oil-stained animals. Those pictures cause President Obama problems too. He had to answer to his daughter who is worried about the pelicans, he pointed out while addressing the press on his second visit to Louisiana.

The BP oil spill, the largest, most disastrous spill in United States history, affects us all. That, and the First Amendment, is why restrictions on the press should challenged. We as a society should not let corporate polluters, in this case BP, in cooperation with the government control the media. It's true that the Joint Information Center, run by BP and the Coast Guard has provided many opportunities to the press, but that does not give them the right to make independent reporting difficult via regulations disguised as public safety rules, or by using intimidation tactics, turning away journalists at every pass as documented many times by those covering the story.

Read here about the Coastguard's media liaison's connection to BP's PR agency
Listen to what Billy Nungesser has to say about the new restrictions here-
listen to Anderson coopers outrage about the media restriction here

Restricted zones, joint information centers, decontamination areas, embedded media: Am I in a war zone or Louisiana? New restrictions on the media make it almost impossible to properlytell the story. So much for transparency. Despite all the dispersants that have beendumped into the Gulf of Mexico, the oil washes up opaque. BP has chosen to spend $50 million on PR while leaving the birds on major rookeries in danger. Protecting our national resources should not become a political battle. Should we turn to BP's hired hack reporters to get our news? See BPs blog here To those who try to defend the new restrictions I say, gooutside with a camera, step back 65 feet from your subject ( an estimate of how far the boom keeps you from your subject beofre the new rules went in effect) then step back another 65 ft and see what kind of picture you get. After you do that, see if you can get Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen to disclose which officials asked him to enact these "safety measures." (Thad Allan is off the hook with the call for him to reveal that information since he has given he retracted his 65 ft rule)

To see a new photo essay I created on the oil disaster on The Atlantic's site click here:

images: top, me on Long Beach in Mississippi
bottom- boom that had been around Cat Island floating in Barataria Bay/ Absorbent boom full of oil washed onto Cat Island by Hurricane Alex