Journalists Covering BP Spill Now Face Felonies, $40K Fines


There will certainly be no more of this -- A journalist diving into the Gulf spill. Photo via AL

There's been much discussion over how BP has been obstructing media coverage of the Gulf spill, and rightly so. Thus far, impediments to coverage have involved the Coast Guard cooperating with BP to turn reporters away, and simply barring journalists' access from certain impacted areas. But now, reports are surfacing that journalists are no longer just facing the prospect of being turned away -- a new rule imposed by the US Coast Guard means that they're now facing felony charges and fines of tens of thousands of dollars as well.The Raw Story has the details:

Journalists who come too close to oil spill clean-up efforts without permission could find themselves facing a $40,000 fine and even one to five years in prison under a new rule instituted by the Coast Guard late last week. It's a move that outraged observers have decried as an attack on First Amendment rights. And CNN's Anderson Cooper describes the new rules as making it "very easy to hide incompetence or failure."

The Coast Guard order states that "vessels must not come within 20 meters [65 feet] of booming operations, boom, or oil spill response operations under penalty of law." But since "oil spill response operations" apparently covers much of the clean-up effort on the beaches, CNN's Anderson Cooper describes the rule as banning reporters from "anywhere we need to be."

This does appear unfairly restrictive -- how are reporters supposed to get decent coverage staying 65 feet away from the impacted sites at all times? Pretty ridiculous.

Salon's Glenn Greenwald takes a closer look at the implications that rules like this have -- he points out that it reveals how blurred the line has become between corporate interests and government operations. And he's right -- we've seen this time and again throughout the coverage of the BP spill: The feds steadfastly supporting BP's decisions and spill response plans, even when both wander into gray territory. The Coast Guard shooed away NPR reporters on BP's behalf, the EPA backed down from BP's refusal to accept their directive to stop using chemical dispersants.

I'll end with a quote from Greenwald here:

The very idea that government officials are acting as agents of BP (of all companies) in what clearly seem to be unconstitutional acts to intimidate and impede the media is infuriating. Obviously, the U.S. Government and BP share the same interest -- preventing the public from knowing the magnitude of the spill and the inadequacy of the clean-up efforts -- but this creepy police state behavior is intolerable.

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