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.
MORE PHOTOJOURNALISM BY
Local Cleanup Crew Takes on BP
Images of Katrina, Five Years Later
Faces of the Tea Party
Haitian Voters Brave Chaos and Cholera
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.