As a writer and photographer covering the oil spill in the Gulf, I've been frustrated by the well-documented efforts by BP and the U.S. Government to limit media access to the damage. The restrictions tightened last week, when the Coast Guard announced rules that prevent the public--including news photographers and reporters--from coming within 20 meters (about 65 feet) of any response vessels or booms on the water or beaches. Violate the "safety zone" rule and you can be slapped with a $40,000 fine and prosecuted under a Class D felony.
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Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen defended the buffer, saying it is "not unusual" to enact measures for "marine events" or "fireworks demonstrations." Allen spokesperson Megan Molney wrote in a July 4 email: "These 20-meter zones are only slightly longer than the distance from a baseball pitcher's mound to home plate. This distance is insignificant when gathering images." Perhaps Molney has never shot video or taken a photograph. But those of us working here know that the real impact--and, one fears, the real goal--of the so-called safety zone is to make it difficult to document the impact of the spill on the land and the wildlife.
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