Friday, May 28, 2010
BP and U.S. Authorities Keeping Out the Press: Surprising or Not?
As people have tuned in around the world to watch BP's live video feed of their attempts to stop the oil spilling in to the Gulf of Mexico, does it really come to anyone's surprise that at the same time BP, with the collusion of local authorities and the U.S. Coast Guard are specifically targeting the press and keeping them out of the most damaged areas? My question is under what authority can they keep out the press.
BP's Photo Blockade of the Gulf Oil Spill
Photographers say BP and government officials are preventing them from documenting the impact of the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
As BP makes its latest attempt to plug its gushing oil well, news photographers are complaining that their efforts to document the slow-motion disaster in the Gulf of Mexico are being thwarted by local and federal officials—working with BP—who are blocking access to the sites where the effects of the spill are most visible. More than a month into the disaster, a host of anecdotal evidence is emerging from reporters, photographers, and TV crews in which BP and Coast Guard officials explicitly target members of the media, restricting and denying them access to oil-covered beaches, staging areas for clean-up efforts, and even flyovers.
Last week, a CBS TV crew was threatened with arrest when attempting to film an oil-covered beach. On Monday, Mother Jones published this firsthand account of one reporter’s repeated attempts to gain access to clean-up operations on oil-soaked beaches, and the telling response of local law enforcement. The latest instance of denied press access comes from Belle Chasse, La.-based Southern Seaplane Inc., which was scheduled to take a New Orleans Times-Picayune photographer for a flyover on Tuesday afternoon, and says it was denied permission once BP officials learned that a member of the press would be on board.
“We are not at liberty to fly media, journalists, photographers, or scientists,” the company said in a letter it sent on Tuesday to Sen. David Vitter (R-La.). “We strongly feel that the reason for this massive [temporary flight restriction] is that BP wants to control their exposure to the press.”
The ability to document a disaster, particularly through images, is key to focusing the nation’s attention on it, and the resulting clean-up efforts. Within days of the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill, pictures of dead otters, fish, and birds, as well as oil-covered shorelines, ignited nationwide outrage and led to a backlash against Exxon. Consumers returned some 10,000 of Exxon’s 7 million credit cards. Forty days after the spill, protestors organized a national boycott of Exxon. So far, no national boycott of BP is in the works, despite growing frustration over the company’s inability to cap the leaking well. Obviously, pictures are emerging from this spill, but much of the images are coming from BP and government sources.
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