UPDATE 7/13: ProPublica reports that the Coast Guard, under pressure from news organizations (hey, and maybe the threat of journalistic civil disobedience?) has changed its access rules. The 65-foor rule barring all journalists from any scene of environmental mayhem is gone, and now journalists who first obtain “press credentials” from the Unified Command (that’s the Coast Guard, other “involved agencies” like the Dept. of Interior, and, troublingly, BP), will be allowed unfettered access to such sites, though the general public will still be barred. We need to know how the so-called Unified Command is going to determine who qualifies for those press credentials. Will it just be corporate organization journalists, or will freelancers and journalists from the smaller publications like this one who are issued such documents? If the latter, we may still have to challenge the law, which still makes crossing that 65′ barrier a Class D Felony with a $40,000 fine and significant jail time.
The Obama administration and BP have clearly been conspiring to hide the magnitude of the Gulf oil catastrophe from the public. One way they’re doing this is by threatening jail terms and $40,000 fines against those who go to document the fiasco.
That is ridiculous. There is not a conceivable justification for banning the media from fully covering this environmental disaster.
It’s not a safety issue. It’s not national security. It’s not even an issue of reporters getting in the way: in many cases journalists have been barred from areas where nobody is doing anything, but dead sea creatures are piling up on the beach.
The answer to this effort to bury the story is for journalists, and especially photo journalists, to go enmasse to the Gulf and violate the ban. Go ahead. Get arrested in the hundreds, or at least dozens. Let’s have a collective defense of the First Amendment! I cannot believe that people are letting this pass.
I mean for god’s sake, CNN’s Anderson Cooper ran a story on the ban. Why isn’t he in jail right now, or out on bail, for refusing to accede to it?
If the big media companies and their prettified “talent” won’t put their bodies and their financial muscle on the line to break this official wall of silence, then individual journalists need to do it. (Maybe the corporate media airheads will at least cover the spectacle.)
The lethargy and quiescence of mainstream American journalists and their publishers in the face of this government clampdown on access to public land and critically important information regarding the extent of the Gulf oil disaster stands in stark and shameless contrast to Italy, where journalists have gone on strike, closing down most of the country’s newspapers and news bulletins, over government plans to restrict reporting based upon material gained from police wiretaps. In Italy, journalists clearly care about their right to information. In the US, all the mainstream media drones want is a steady stream of press releases and official press briefings, and they’re happy.
For the record, if people will front us the air fare and a few hundred bucks for expenses to cover a couple days in New Orleans, the staff of ThisCantBeHappening! will be down on the beach with cameras and videocams ready to confront the censors. (We trust that there will be attorneys ready to defend us pro bono, and are looking into that now. We also hope there will be dozens of other like-minded journalists willing to stand with us and demand the right to enter disaster areas to report on what we find.) You can send contributions using the Paypal button on the right side of the homepage.
Meanwhile, if you’re a journalist and want to join in such an effort to defend the First Amendment, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org