BP, Government Blocking Press from Reporting Their "Ballet at Sea"
By Kevin Gosztola
July 4, 2010http://uruknet.com/?p=m67632&hd=&size=1&l=e
"As high tourist season approaches, there will be people who 'come on down to Alabama' regardless of the oil spill. A delicate balance between preparation for the worst and the pleasure of tourists is in the making."
"At first glance, the process looks chaotic, but after a minute of watching the orchestration a brilliant concert plays out. One of the young men of the Alabama National Guard is from a town not far from the work on Dauphin Island's west end, as are many others in his outfit. He says that being on active duty in the place he calls home is something state guards hope for. Though they go wherever and whenever they are deployed, often overseas, working to protect home surf and turf is always a welcome assignment""
"A ballet at sea as mesmerizing as any performance in a concert hall, and worthy of an audience in its own right."
Anderson Cooper, host of "Anderson Cooper: 360" on CNN, has been tracking BP's obstruction of freedom of the press. Cooper is in his element when covering the Gulf coast. Having earned respect and credibility through coverage of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Cooper has no problem with publicly challenging attempts by BP to keep journalists or reporters away from the damaged areas of the Gulf.
COOPER: "the Coast Guard today announced new rules keeping photographers and reporters and anyone else from coming within 65 feet of any response vessel or booms out on the water or on beaches -- 65 feet.
Now, in order to get closer, you have to get direct permission from the Coast Guard captain of the Port of New Orleans. You have to call up the guy. What this means is that oil-soaked birds on islands surrounded by boom, you can't get close enough to take that picture.
Shots of oil on beaches with booms, stay 65 feet away. Pictures of oil-soaked booms uselessly laying in the water because they haven't been collected like they should, you can't get close enough to see that. And, believe me, that is out there.
But you only know that if you get close to it, and now you can't without permission. Violators could face a fine of $40,000 and Class D felony charges.
What's even more extraordinary is that the Coast Guard tried to make the exclusion zone 300 feet, before scaling it back to 65 feet"
The order comes just days after the ACLU of Louisiana wrote the following letter urging an end to blocking of the press and censorship of information:
"We have learned from several sources that law enforcement officers have prevented members of the public from filming activities on the beaches affected by the BP oil spill. We have learned of the following incidents, among others:
Several reporters have been told not to film at spill sites in Louisiana. Incidents include attempts to film on a beach in Grand Isle and near Venice. Reporters are told that they are not allowed to record because BP doesn't want filming there. Elmer's Island Wildlife Refuge, off of Grand Isle, is blocked by Jefferson Parish deputies. Deputies told one reporter not to photograph them blocking the road.
At least one person was told by a Terrebonne Parish sheriff's deputy working private security detail for BP that he wasn't allowed to film the outside of the BP building in Houma from a private, non-BP-owned field across the street. The deputy admitted that the guy wasn't breaking any laws but tried to intimidate him into stopping filming and leaving anyway.
We have reason to believe that deputies in other coastal parishes may also be working with BP to impede or prevent access to public lands and to interfere with members of the public and the media.
This letter is to notify you that members of the public have the right under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to film, record, photograph, and document anything they observe in a public place. No one -- neither law enforcement nor a private corporation -- has the legal right to interfere with public access to public places or the recording of activities that occur there. Nor may law enforcement officials cooperate with private companies in denying such access to the public.
Additionally, BP has "reporters" working for them, producing stories on the oil disaster that they contend are not being covered by media organizations.
The reporting consists primarily of puff-piece accounts of the damage, how awesome it is to be flying over the damage and looking down at the wetlands that the oil will likely spread into and further destroy. It consists of celebration of the tourism the Gulf coast has to offer and a profile of tourists who have not canceled their vacations. And, it glamorizes the service of the National Guard who have helped BP militarize the Gulf and turn areas into off-limit zones that members of the media are not allowed to venture into.
On July 2nd, Anderson Cooper covered BP's employment of "reporters" to propagandize their clean-up effort:
"It turns out BP has dispatched two employees to the Gulf who call themselves, according to their blogs, BP reporters. But their reporting looks nothing like our reporting or the rest of the media's reporting. It's far more positive. (voice-over): Check out this blog by BP reporter Tom Seslar, the same guy who interviewed Vicki Chaisson. Here, he interviewed a family in the seafood business, who says -- quote -- "There is no reason to hate BP, and, "The oil spill was an accident," this from folks in the seafood business, which has been destroyed by the BP spill""
"COOPER: The -- I mean, for 70-some odd days now, I have been kind of, I guess, complaining or pointing out the lack of transparency that BP has, even though they had promised transparency.
It doesn't seem like -- I mean, that still seems a major issue that no one else seems to be as concerned about as we have talked about.
JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: But they can't be, because they have an obligation to their shareholders, just like they can't be transparent about the flow.
We discussed this last night. When the guy says, well, we don't -- it's irrelevant to us what the flow is, you have to pay probably, maybe $4,000 a barrel for the flow. And so they're -- you can't -- you can't believe anything that they say, because they have an obligation to their shareholders"
NOLA.com reported that Associated Press photographer Geoffrey Herbert thinks there is reason to be concerned about the restrictions:
"Often the general guise of 'safety' is used as a blanket excuse to limit the media's access, and it's been done before"It feels as though news reporting is being criminalized under thinly veiled excuses. The total effect of all these restrictions is harming the public's right to know."
In the middle of June, Associated Press writer Tamara Lush wrote: "Journalists covering the Gulf of Mexico oil spill have been yelled at, kicked off public beaches and islands and threatened with arrest in the nearly three weeks since the government promised improved media access."
Adm. Thad Allen, the federal government's point person for the response, issued a May 31 directive to BP PLC and federal officials ensuring media access to key sites along the coast. BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles followed up with a letter to news organizations, saying the company "fully supports and defends all individuals' rights to share their personal thoughts and experiences with journalists if they so choose."
Those efforts have done little to curtail the obstacles, harassment and intimidation tactics journalists are facing by federal officials and local police, as well as BP employees and contractors, while covering the worst environmental catastrophe in U.S. history.
Lush went on to further illuminate how Adm. Allen's directive on May 31 was likely public posturing, purely an empty gesture to stem the outrage among journalists in attempting to cover the disaster:
_ On June 5, sheriff's deputies in Grand Isle, La., threatened an AP photographer with arrest for criminal trespassing after he spoke to BP employees and took pictures of cleanup workers on a public beach.
_ On June 6, an AP reporter was in a boat near an island in Barataria Bay, off the Louisiana coast, when a man in another boat identifying himself as a U.S. Fish and Wildlife employee ordered the reporter to leave the area. When the reporter asked to see identification, the man refused, saying "My name doesn't matter, you need to go."
_ According to a June 10 CNN video, one of the network's news crews was told by a bird rescue worker that he signed a contract with BP stating that he would not talk to the media. The crew was also turned away by BP contractors working at a bird triage area _ despite having permission from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to enter the facility.
_ On June 11 and 12, private security guards patrolling in the Grand Isle area attempted repeatedly to prevent a crew from New Orleans television station WDSU from walking on a public beach and speaking with cleanup workers.
_ On June 13, a charter helicopter pilot carrying an AP photographer was contacted by the Federal Aviation Administration, which told the pilot he had violated the temporary flight restriction by flying below 3,000 feet. Both the pilot and photographer contend the helicopter never flew below 3,000 feet. However, the federal government now says helicopters in the restricted area are allowed to fly as low as 1,500 feet.
The federal government has sided with BP and helped BP obstruct press freedom. Even if the coverage would not condemn BP as criminal, even when press is willing to go along and play by the rules BP has outlined for media, the federal government has refused to give credence to the concerns of members of the press.
Now, with Adm. Allen's order, it appears the government will continue to protect BP. If it is protecting BP now, what will it do for BP later? Does such behavior warrant concerns about whether BP will actually pay one hundred percent for what it should as a result of the company's negligence and risky deepwater drilling operation?
In Obama Administration-speak, how long before the mantra becomes , "We need to move forward instead of looking backward," and Americans find it impossible to hold BP accountable because attention is no longer being directed at BP and the Gulf? Certainly, it seems the
Administration and BP would like Americans especially journalists to concede that there's nothing to see here (or there) and, yes, they should move along. People in areas nearby the damaged areas of the Gulf are depending on reports. In the same way that those impacted by Hurricane Katrina depended on reporters and journalists to cover what was really going on in the aftermath, fishermen, BP workers, residents who live on the coast, etc. are all depending on those who understand the value of reporting to society to stay firm, hold strong and not bow to the orders of BP or government officials to shy away from telling real stories of the people and areas most impacted in the Gulf.
Kevin Gosztola publishes articles on OpEdNews.com., Open Salon, The Seminal, and recently launched a blog on Alternet. He is a 2009 Young People For Fellow and a documentary filmmaker who will graduate with a Film/Video B.A.