Coast guard prevents journalists’ access to Louisiana oil spill citing “British Petroleum’s Rules”

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I know this a few days old by now, but I didn’t see this get too much traction in the parts of the internet I frequent… In the video above, a Coast Guard patrol boat prevents a CBS news crew from accessing a beach affected by the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Most disturbing is the reason cited, “These are BP’s rules, not ours….,” which gives the appearance of US government officials enforcing private company policy as an arrestable offense.

Since the incident, the Coast Guard has officially responded to the allegations: “Neither BP nor the U.S. Coast Guard, who are responding to the spill, have any rules in place that would prohibit media access to impacted areas and we were disappointed to hear of this incident. In fact, media has been actively embedded and allowed to cover response efforts since this response began, with more than 400 embeds aboard boats and aircraft to date. Just today 16 members of the press observed clean-up operations on a vessel out of Venice, La. The only time anyone would be asked to move from an area would be if there were safety concerns, or they were interfering with response operations.” This is not much comfort. Vague appeals to “safety” and the success of the embed program only set off my concerns more. By only allowing journalists to access the spill through official channels, the government and companies control what information is available to the public and other interested parties. Only unrestricted, open access to the affected areas will allow journalists to tell the full story of the environmental tragedy as it unfolds and after. ProPublica sums the problem up well:

“BP hasn’t yet been able to stop the flow of oil, but it’s been more successful at controlling the information coming out about the Gulf disaster.”

The rest of the ProPublica coverage of access to information about the oil spill is well worth a read.

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