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A Brief History Lesson for Americans on Zimbabwe from Delta Ndou [VIDEO]

3:53 pm in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

More than a week ago, I attended the Netroots Nation 2011 conference. I had the privilege of interviewing Tim DeChristopher and Lt. Dan Choi. Both DeChristopher and Choi are brave and courageous individuals but not as brave and courageous as Zimbabwe feminist blogger Delta Ndou.

Here in America as part of the Washington Foreign Press Center (FPC) reporting tour on Blogging for Social and Political Change, Ndou had the task, as she describes in a blog post, of deciding whether to “silently endure whatever remarks were made about Zimbabwe (which remarks would naturally reflect on me) or whether [to] stand in defense of [her] country and consequently in defense of [herself].”

She had to bear the burden of talking to Americans (who likely had no clue where Zimbabwe is located on a map let alone anything about the social or political culture/history in the country). When talking, she had to choose between displaying “fierce patriotism”  or “a desperate desire to repudiate and disassociate” herself from Zimbabwe.

I heard Ndou deliver a keynote speech at Netroots Nation 2011. Her personality came through. There was something authentic about her. When she declared, “When I write, nobody can shut me up,” and added, “I blog because I know I cannot be ignored,” her passion and spirit resonated with me deeply. It reminded me of why I have always had a special place in my heart for anyone who comes from any country on the Africa continent.

Unlike people here in the United States, rarely do you meet someone from an African country that is afraid to defend freedom and actually wage a battle or struggle to reclaim dignity, liberty or rights in society. Americans just think they’ll go out and vote and it will all get better. We buy into the idea that you can export democracy and either people will get it and become democratic or they won’t. If they don’t, they are ungrateful or a culture incapable of understanding democracy. And, we Americans assume our model of democracy is the only model for a just and properly civilized society.

But, as we’ve seen with Egyptians, Tunisians and Libyans, there is a conviction and dedication to struggling for justice and liberation. In countries like Morocco, Sudan, Gabon, Ivory Coast and Cameroon there are our movements that seek radical change in their country. Many of these countries have young leaders with passionate minds like Delta Ndou and are taking steps to correct injustice.

Africans have roots in a history of colonization. White Europeans colonized Africa.

Americans have roots in a history of colonization too. We colonized America and drove the Native Americans from their land.

That may be why a person from Zimbabwe would have such a starkly different perspective than an American. Zimbabweans (especially black Zimbabweans) have historically been expected to be subservient to a colonial, white power structure. We Americans (especially whites) have been able to throw power around and get anything unless a minority challenged the colonial nature of white power.

Ndou participated in a panel at Netroots Nation, “Changing of the Guard: Youth Leading Democracy.” She was gracious and granted me some time to talk to her after the panel.

I noted that during her keynote she mentioned that people all over the world had a lot of stereotypes about Zimbabwe. I asked her if she could tell me about what some of them might be. She gave me a look of pity and disbelief and said, “Okay, but you’re going to have to bear with me. This is going to be a bit long.”

Her answer was a narrative of the recent history of Zimbabwe told with great energy and genuine candor.

One of the things that Zimbabwe has received a backlash for is the landgrabs that that took place some years ago when war veterans just invaded farms and took over. That incident, I think, in many cases it has been reported without giving a background or a context to what happened and why it happened and what led to that.

She explained that after Zimbabwe attained independence in 1980 the British promised Zimbabweans a land redistribution program in ten years. Why? Because 2,000 white people owned 70% of the land and a population of 13 million owned 30% of the land, most of it not arable.

I’ll stop there and let Delta finish the story for you in the vibrant way she communicates it in the video.

She ends saying, “Americans have a sense of justice and fairness so it always baffles me that they don’t understand the issue is the land, not Mugabe.”

*

Ndou’s blog can be found here – It’s Delta.

After you watch the video, read her take on President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

My stay in America presented me with numerous opportunities and platforms to correct a few misconceptions about Zimbabwe and it was gratifying to realize that my views found a receptive audience in the persons of senior, high-ranking US Government officials because the meetings had an exciting no-holds-barred atmosphere that allows for candid dialogue.

It was this atmosphere of candor that allowed me to quiz the Under Secretary of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, Judith McHale on the great amount of blame that I felt America should take for the systematic demonizing and distortion of Zimbabwe and its image internationally that has prevailed in recent years.

My query had been prompted by the fact that she had informed us that, “US Diplomacy involves making efforts to reach out and strengthen relations between the US government, its citizens and people all over the globe. Both President Obama and Secretary Clinton appreciate and understand the importance of engaging people and having conversations with them that will move us forward. They are both exemplary by going out and listening and learning and sharing ideas with people everywhere”.

I had wondered whether either President Obama or Secretary Clinton having understood the “importance of engaging people and having conversations with them” had ever held such dialogues with President Mugabe prior to kicking off their administration’s foreign policy by declaring that the US Government intended to extend sanctions in Zimbabwe.

I wondered whether they had afforded President Mugabe the simple courtesy of hearing him out before falling in with the stance assumed by the Bush administration and being aware of the fact that President Obama had given Prime Minister Tsvangirai an audience – I wondered why the same invitation was not extended to President Mugabe – if only to hear both sides of the story.

I wondered too, how President Obama or Secretary Clinton could then authoritatively comment on or form opinions about President Mugabe when they had never even met with him, spoken to him or engaged him in anyway.

I wondered all these things because it is my strong feeling that I will not give credit to the views or opinions anyone expresses about on the basis of hearsay when they have never once sat down to have a dialogue with me.
In my view they become unqualified to comment by virtue of their ignorance of the subject matter – in this case the subject matter would be me.

We Americans often wonder what to do to correct the deeply entrenched problems in American society. I don’t think we need to look any further than young people like Ndou. They’ve been fighting oppression for decades and know what it means to suffer and how to fight to be free.

Netroots Nation: The Confrontation with Breitbart & the Grilling of WH Comm. Dir. Pfeiffer

6:06 pm in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

Progressive activists, many who primarily use the Internet to raise their voice and work to influence politics, gathered at Netroots Nation 2011 for three days of discussion and deliberation. Many attended issues-based panels, others went to panels focused on beating back the right wing attack on the middle class in America and quite a few spent time at panels highlighting how the Obama Administration has not been the “fierce advocate” on progressive issues like the “netroots” thought he would.

Two episodes, which took place during the conference, deserve scrutiny and further consideration: a liberal blogger and Netroots Nation attendees swarming Andrew Breitbart and his posse as they tried to get into the Exhibit Hall at the conference and the Q&A session with White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer who was interviewed by DailyKos’ Kaili Joy Gray. They merit further discussion especially because of the reaction from many of the conference attendees.

Days after getting another scalp—the head of Rep. Anthony Weiner, Breitbart came to crash the conference and irk the liberal netroots with his presence. He accomplished his goal and was aided with the support of liberals, who swarmed him with cameras and proceeded to badger him with questions.

A blogger with 100 Proof Politics got his 15 minutes of fame asking Breitbart “tough questions” like whether an employee of his was arrested last night for harassing young Muslim women in the streets of Minneapolis, whether he has done cocaine and whether he has slept with a prostitute.

Engaging him gave Breitbart and his shock troops what they wanted: attention.

It created a scene for the corporate media, an instance of liberals versus conservatives with both shouting at one another. It provided an example of a petty battle that can play out between liberal and conservative bloggers. And, it looked like the kind of thing that Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s “Rally to Restore Sanity” particularly aimed to condemn because of the fact that it does nothing to help either person get a better understanding of the other.
Read the rest of this entry →

Jane Hamsher is No “Ratfucker” (And She Shouldn’t Be Required to Show Progressive Credentials Either) – with Updates

6:55 pm in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

Photo by JD Lasica

(Update below – Update 1 – Update 2 – Update 3)

Matt Osborne of Osborne Ink, a blog that is part of the Banter Wire media group, has taken it upon himself to decide whether Jane Hamsher, founder of Firedoglake, deserves to enjoy the status she enjoys in progressive circles or not. In a recent post, he calls her a “ratfucker” and says there is nothing “‘left’ left of Hamsher.” A case could be made for ignoring the content of his post entirely, but I do not wish to let Osborne turn Hamsher into some sort of pariah.

Osborne writes, “She is first and foremost a self-aggrandizing publicity whore whose Accountability Now PAC has so far given $0 to progressive candidates in the first two years of its existence while spending $285,272.” (In an update, Osborne corrected what he said and mentioned Ryan Bucchianeri, who lost badly to an “establishment” Democrat, received money from the PAC.)

Left out of this diatribe was the fact that Accountability Now PAC was supported by MoveOn, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Daily Kos, ColorofChange.org, Democracy for America, 21st Century Democrats, and BlogPAC. These are major liberal entities, which are responsible for the majority of Democratic Party activism. Without them, there would be even less people out there working to counteract Tea Party forces, which have successfully pulled President Obama’s agenda to the right.

Also, as Glenn Greenwald has noted, Accountability Now PAC never intended to donate to progressive candidates. He debunked criticisms with this response posted on Balloon Juice. But, those who thought something was fishy with Accountability Now PAC chose to focus on cosmetic problems with the response instead of the substance of the response (e.g. they preferred to call Greenwald a “dick” for treating readers of Balloon Juice and other blogs like it as “Obama cultists” who get angry when one criticizes “dear leader”).

Osborne calls out Hamsher for appearing on Fox News after calling for a boycott of the network. He doesn’t bother to mention why she made the appearance or what she said on the air.

“In 2000, the Republicans passed Medicare Part D, and it had no negotiation for prescription drug prices.  And then in 2006, when the Democrats took over Congress, the first thing they did was say “hey, we’re going to roll that back, we’re going to allow for [negotiation of] prescription drug prices to be passed.  But now that they actually have the chance, they’re not doing it.  And you’ve got people like Jeff Sessions on the floor of the Senate saying this is criminal, this deal is criminal, but he didn’t vote for it in 2000 or 2006 when he had the chance.  So we’re sort of looking at a situation where people on the right, people on the left, are looking at the Senate, and they’re saying “nobody’s there representing us.  Nobody’s representing the people.”  It’s just a matter of who’s in power and who’s taking PhRMA’s money.”

He constructs a false binary by suggesting that Hamsher cannot be against Democrats appearing on Fox News (which she has called a “partisan opinion factory”) and also go on Fox News to give opinions. But, there shouldn’t be anything wrong with that. There is no benefit to Democrats appearing on Fox News, as they are a GOP operation whose sole aim is to inundate the public with right wing propaganda that will make it impossible for Democrats to win elections. There is, however, a benefit to someone who has a message for a right wing audience and believes people from the left and right should unite and oppose reform packages that are essentially giveaways to corporations.

He goes after Hamsher for using a web ad company that took money from BP. Fair enough, but this seemed to be something that happened because BP purchased ads as part of their greenwashing campaign. BP effectively tried to intimidate ThinkProgress, Crooks and Liars, AmericaBlog, Eschaton and other liberal blogs relying on ad revenue from Common Sense Media. It threatened to pull ads if they were found to be appearing near posts that were “offensive” or critical of BP. Pulling the ad, of course, would mean loss of ad revenue, which is often the life’s blood for blogs. Those familiar with Firedoglake know they had a BP Oil Disaster campaign that was funded by donations. It is likely that they took a minimal amount of money if any.

It is unclear whether BP ever pulled its ads from Firedoglake because they were appearing near posts criticizing BP. But, Osborne doesn’t ask if this ever happened. His commitment to taking down Hamsher supersedes critical thinking. He just jumps to conclusions without reading between the lines.

Osborne criticizes Hamsher for making common cause with Break the Matrix, which represented the Ron Paul campaign, and singles it out because it promoted a “libertarianism that spawned the Tea Party.” Why did Hamsher do such a thing? She was concerned about the issue of telecom immunity and, as part of the “Strange Bedfellows” campaign, she joined forces with Rick Williams and Trevor Lyman, and civil liberties writer Glenn Greenwald of Salon, and leading liberal bloggers including, Jane Hamsher of firedoglake, Matt Stoller of Open Left, John Amato of Crooks and Liars, Howie Klein of Down with Tyranny, Digby, Josh Nelson of The Seminal and activist Josh Koster to pressure Congress into following the Constitution and ending their complicity toward telecoms, which engaged in warrantless wiretapping under the Bush Administration. And, he criticizes Hamsher for making common cause with Grover Norquist in a campaign for Rahm Emanuel’s resignation for his role in the collapse of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Criticism of this nature toward Hamsher is purist and sanctimonious. It appears activists are not to make common cause with people they often disagree with when their views are in sync with one another. It seems forming a broad-based coalition that might frighten those in power because they aren’t facing opposition from the left or right but from the entire American population is to be frowned upon. Bipartisanship between activists is not okay, but the American people should swallow bipartisan health reform bills that force people to buy a defective product from private insurance companies and bipartisan tax cut compromises that raise taxes on those at the bottom while cutting taxes for the top 2%.

Jane Hamsher is to be celebrated for her work as a progressive. She fervently fought for the public option and spoke out when it was clear that President Obama was working behind the scenes with pharmaceutical and private insurance company interests to prevent progressive measures for health reform from making it into the health reform legislation. Through Firedoglake, she has helped produce coverage of the push for new free trade agreements like the Korean Free Trade Agreement, TSA’s invasive security procedures, foreclosure fraud, the Prop 8 Trial, and the BP Oil Disaster. She has contributed to campaigns for the legalization of marijuana and student loan reform. FDL’s weekly Book Salons are invaluable.  And, she was No. 15 on The Nation magazine’s “30 Media Heroes” list.

Hamsher has been an adamant supporter of primary challenge campaigns—finding candidates to run against Democratic incumbents. Her work contributed to Ned Lamont’s victory over Joe Lieberman (and Lamont might have defeated Sen. Lieberman if it weren’t for the fact that then-Senator Obama and “Third Way” forces gave money to Sen. Lieberman to help him defeat Lamont).

Osborne and his readers on Osborne Ink hate the fact that Hamsher pushes candidates to tug the party in a direction that is less corporate and less authoritarian. He and others would like Hamsher and her “firebaggers” to just settle for incremental reform and spend time focusing on the minimal differences between Republicans and Democrats so that Democrats can win elections. He does not want primary challenges to be mounted because they are divisive. (Of course, campaigns against slavery and for women’s rights, workers’ rights and LGBT equality were or have, in the history of America, been divisive. Unity is not going to solve the problems this country faces especially if it means making common cause with interests that are creating the systemic problems this country faces.)

It would be easy to end this lengthy response to Osborne with name-calling. Instead of doing that, I would like to attempt to ignite constructive conversation because I think Osborne’s post demonstrates there are divisions those on the left of the political spectrum must confront. So, in conclusion, Osborne and Osborne’s readers, please answer, if you can:

1)   Why are you and those who follow your blog so repulsed by criticism of Obama, criticism that can often be substantiated with facts or reason?

2)   What do you think Democrats should stand for and, if they fail to stand for those agenda items, values or principles should there be consequences?

3)   How should Democrats counteract the Tea Party? If liberals or progressives shouldn’t pull the Democrats in the opposite direction through primary challenges or third party candidates, what should be done to halt the influence of the Tea Party on the Democratic Party and the Obama Administration?

4)   What about the prospect of making common cause with those whom liberals are often opposed to in single-issue campaigns? What’s wrong with that?

5)   What do you think the liberal or progressive blogosphere’s value is to Americans? Is it supposed to be an arena that produces reporting on subjects? Is it to combat the failure of corporate media? Or is it supposed to be an environment that upholds glib and snarky posts and rarely produces reporting or interviews, which might inform and provide insight on key issues?

Update 1

I normally would not have responded to Osborne. I would have let him do his thing. But, I just finished “The Death of the Liberal Class” by Chris Hedges. The liberal establishment likes to marginalize people who should matter. That is what Osborne’s goal seemed to be with his post on Hamsher. And, I think we need to take on people who try to marginalize fighters we need in the struggle, no matter how irrelevant we think they are (and I think Osborne has enough credibility on his blog to justify responding to him).

Blogs that toe the Democratic Party line and like to stay in the “veal pen” can amplify and create an echo that devastates a person. They can display more interest in “practical aims” and “material advantages” (as Hedges writes) and utterly disregard “unpleasant truths and morality.” They can help those at the top purge liberal institutions of individuals who “challenge the orthodoxy of belief, who question reigning political passions.” They can banish people who refuse to “be practical” and bow down to presidential administrations that engage in “hippie-punching.”

Character assassinations of people who are valuable to advancing social justice should always be challenged. For example, I believe it is and always will be necessary to respond to Democrats who claim Ralph Nader cost Al Gore the election with facts and reason; that’s because that version of history is not true. It’s a myth, which happens to be damaging to organizing against corporations and the two-party system in America because it forces liberals to ignore Nader’s history and success as a consumer advocate.

Update 2

Matt Osborne has put up a response to my defense of Jane Hamsher.

Update 3

I’m doing this to promote discussion and debate, which I think FDL is for. Bob Kincaid, West Virginia environmental activist and founder of the Head On Radio Network, responded to my defense of Jane Hamsher and what I call progressive politics, which operate independently and with little regard for the Democratic Party.

1) Why are you and those who follow your blog so repulsed by criticism of Obama, criticism that can often be substantiated with facts or reason?

You missed me with your broad brush. You make unfounded assumptions in your apologium. I am a frequent and vociferous critic of Obama. What I am NOT, however, is a member of the “I-Want-A-Pony” crowd. I am politically savvy enough to recognize that most politics move glacially and not fluidly. The stridency of mercenaries like Hamsher simply rings hollow with me. She sets up unaccomplishable goals and then cogratulates herself when she gets nothing done.

Your first question fails by assuming facts not in evidence.

2) What do you think Democrats should stand for and, if they fail to stand for those agenda items, values or principles should there be consequences?

In the real world, Democrats will stand for what their constituents want, i.e. an Alabama Democrat is a very different critter from a New York Democrat. You might recall, for instance, that some “liberal” Republicans helped carry the day when southern dems defected during the Civil Rights struggle. The overlay of corporate $$$ cannot be overlooked, but that’s a function of our campaign culture, and a separate issue.

To expand, however, let me suggest that politicians don’t change cultures. Cultures change politicians. As such, if you want to make people less blue-doggy, you have to change the minds of the electorate. I see little of that coming from the FireBaggers. More heat than light, as it were.

Me, I’d like for Democrats to uniformly stand for the things I stand for: human rights, as they encompass every aspect of any given “liberal” issue.

3) How should Democrats counteract the Tea Party? If liberals or progressives shouldn’t pull the Democrats in the opposite direction through primary challenges or third party candidates, what should be done to halt the influence of the Tea Party on the Democratic Party and the Obama Administration?

Generally speaking, I am a proponent of primary challenges in legislative races, but not for incumbent presidents. History is on my side in this. The fractiousness of 1968 gave us Nixon; Reagan’s challenge of Ford in ’76 gave us (mercifully) Carter; Kennedy’s challenge of Carter in ’80 gave us Raygun. While not an incumbent, the challenge of Gore by Bradley and Nader certainly helped us get DimSon. There is no empirical data to to suggest that the same would not be the case with a primary challenge to Obama. Perhaps that’s why none other than Howard Dean inveighed against such a short-sighted strategy.

Moreover, one does not help a victim of bullying to stop being bullied by calling in more bullies. That’s what I see Jane and her ilk doing.

Interestingly, Jane’s PAC, while raising significant funds, hasn’t evinced much interest in furthering the goals of those progressive primary challengers.

4) What about the prospect of making common cause with those whom liberals are often opposed to in single-issue campaigns? What’s wrong with that?

The “Strange Bedfellows” defense. I suppose it COULD be a defense if one’s ulikely ally was a negotiator in good faith. If not, it’s merely a self-inflicted mugging. There is NO evidence that TeaBaggers, or Republicans, generally, operate in good faith. Oddly enough, this is a lesson that both the FireBaggers AND Obama need to learn. Assuming neither will, I expect a politically horrifying right-wing pincer movement that will be a veritable Carrhae.

Ultimately, when you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas. Ron Paul and his son are both racists of some stripe, as are the majority of the TeaBaggers. One cannot make common cause with them without eing tainted in one’s own right, and that won’t play well with a lot of Obama’s base, regardless of skin tone.

5) What do you think the liberal or progressive blogosphere’s value is to Americans? Is it supposed to be an arena that produces reporting on subjects? Is it to combat the failure of corporate media? Or is it supposed to be an environment that upholds glib and snarky posts and rarely produces reporting or interviews, which might inform and provide insight on key issues?

It seems you have suggested your answer in the false choices you have presented.

Still, in good faith, I’ll suggest that my view of the largely borderless “liberal or progressive blogosphere” is that it should nurture and produce the talent with which to eventually supplant the ForProfitMedia. By supplant, I do not intend a simple overlay, with one group of gatekeepers replaced by another set. That is what I see as Jane’s goal. Here in the South, we’d say she “wants to get her back trotters in the trough along with her fronts.”

As Wall Street Support Shifts from Left to Right, Liberal Pundits Respond to Gibbs’ Attack

6:29 pm in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

2796069323_c06d4ea0eb.jpg
Robert Gibbs in studio interview by studio08denver

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs became the spokesperson for Obama Administration contempt toward the left on Tuesday. The display of contempt came in the midst of a nearly 70 percent shift in Wall Street executive donations from Democratic candidates to Republican candidates ahead of the November mid-term elections.

On Tuesday, The Hill published an interview with Gibbs, who said what Obama has done and is doing would never be "good enough" for the "professional left." Gibbs attacked the left for comparing Obama to George W. Bush, suggested, "these people ought to be drug tested" and said they "wouldn’t be satisfied if Dennis Kucinich was president." He also said they would only "be satisfied when [America has] Canadian healthcare and [America has] eliminated the Pentagon."

Gibbs’ remark revealed a lot about what members of the Obama Administration think of the role of debate and citizen participation in government. And, the implicit apology Gibbs made in the aftermath of his "inartful" comments revealed even more about an administration that believes progressives should take marching orders from this administration or else.

"So we should all, me included, stop fighting each other and arguing about our differences on certain policies," he said, and work together "because we’ve come too far to turn back now," Gibbs said after mentioning he watches a lot of cable television, as if to excuse his remark.

While circumstantial, the best evidence for why Gibbs would feel like uttering the aforementioned remarks is the shift of money from Wall Street to Republicans ahead of the election. Obama was the candidate of Wall Street in the 2008 Election garnering nearly $8 million in campaign contributions from securities and investment industries (nearly double what Republican presidential candidate John McCain garnered). The Democrats earned 57 percent of campaign contributions from securities and investment industries.

The situation compels the Obama Administration especially White House press secretary Gibbs to whip the left and the sections that are most listened to by voters into line not only because money from business interests needs to swing back the other way but because disappointed and disillusioned voters will likely stay home, not donate to Democratic Party campaigns, not make phone calls, and refuse to go door-to-door canvassing prior to Election Day if they do not fall in line.  . . . Read the rest of this entry →

“Embedded Media” Only Allowed to Cover BP Oil Disaster?

11:16 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

CBS journalists were filming a beach in South Pass, Louisiana, when, according to CBS, a "boat of BP contractors and two Coast Guard officers told them to turn around or be arrested." The incident is thought by bloggers tracking the oil leak in the Gulf to not be the only time that BP has challenged the right of journalists to film.

If in fact BP has instructed crews to specifically regulate and turn away groups with video cameras or even still cameras, this raises many questions about what Americans are able to access and not access, what they are able to document and not document.

Should a person have to be embedded with authorities, corporations or organizations at the center of a disaster in order to document a disaster? Must a person be with a recognized news organization that regularly gets into press conferences in order to film critical events like the BP oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico right now?

RAW STORY noted the effect of BP’s restrictions on reporting on the disaster and leak so far and mentioned how anecdotes from bloggers have become "a primary source of additional information." Keep in mind the videos released by BP so far have only been released as a result of pressure from Congress and other organizations. That is why BP is finally releasing a live feed of the leak.

Journalists were told by "someone aboard the boat" this is BP’s rules, not ours. That alone would be enough to seriously question the situation and ask why citizens should have to follow rules and only document what authorities, corporations, or organizations involved grant citizens permission to document. But, the Coast Guard was present and they released a statement on the matter that was published by the Mother Nature Network.

"CBS Evening News reported they were denied access to oiled shoreline by a civilian vessel that had clean-up workers contracted by BP, as well as Coast Guard personnel on board. CBS News video taped the exchange during which time one of the contractors told them (on tape) that " … this is BP’s rules not ours."

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 did occur off South Pass Monday which may have caused the confusion reported by CBS today.

The entities involved in the Deepwater Horizon/BP Response have already reiterated these media access guidelines to personnel involved in the response and hope it prevents any future confusion." [emphasis added]

That the Coast Guard, a national military organization, is going along with whatever happened between BP and the CBS journalists should lead those involved in the creation and production of media to be even more concerned. The Coast Guard is, with this statement, legitimizing BP’s right to limit the privileges of those wishing to document the destruction.

When one breaks down the "400 embeds aboard boats and aircraft to date" the Coast Guard claims BP has allowed, it comes out to approximately 13 embeds per day in the month since the oil rig explosion occurred. And, if each embed is one journalist, this means 13 journalists per day have been allowed (on average) to document the disaster and response efforts/failures.

Is this satisfactory? Have all those interested in documenting been allowed to embed and see the devastation? Who has been turned away because BP didn’t agree with the intentions or motivations of a videographer or how a journalist wanted to frame the story?

Read between the lines. In the U.S. war in Iraq journalists have been embedded and they have followed instructions on what to cover and not cover. Such embedding has become standard procedure. Embedding socializes those engaging in media coverage. It leads them to see what is happening from the official point-of-view that those at the center may want media coverage to come from.

The Coast Guard statement also says, "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." What constitutes a safety concern or interference with response operations? If that is up to BP’s discretion, it seems like anyone deemed to be a "threat" to BP could be deemed a "safety concern" and directed to leave.

It’s unlikely that CBS will push back against BP if they have in fact been restricted from filming areas of destruction on the Gulf coast. The news organization risks access privileges if they challenge authorities. The news organization also risks advertising dollars if it mounts a campaign against BP for restricting journalist access to the Gulf.

That does not mean there should not be an increased effort to track BP’s restriction of access to the Gulf. In a time when any person should be able to be a blogger, photographer, or filmmaker and can be a blogger, photographer, or filmmaker, pushing back against a corporation’s attempts to hide what is really happening in the Gulf is unacceptable.

Unfortunately, there is no record of incidents of this nature. Despite the fact that countless journalists or videographers might share anecdotes about trying to film or document corporations like Monsanto before being threatened with arrest for filming, this is not a trend that can be discussed quantitatively yet (and certainly an organization should consider tracking this comprehensively). But, when put into a world context, it makes one wonder just how much freedom people really have in this country.

Reporters Sans Frontieres, an organization that tracks the state of press freedom around the world, consistently reports on incidents like what happened between CBS, BP and the Coast Guard.

In February 2007, journalism student Mehrnoushe Solouki, who has dual French and Iranian nationality, was arrested and held in Evin prison for a month for filming "the families of the victims of violence in the 1980s and her notes and film were confiscated." She was in Tehran with the intention of producing a documentary on the 1988 ceasefire between Iran and Iraq.

In April 2005, CBS cameraman Abdul Ameer Younis Hussein was filming a ceremony at Mosul University and was shot by U.S. troops "during an exchange with rebels." He was arrested and held by the U.S. military for a year before being released. Charges were eventually dropped making it even more likely that the fact that he was there filming with a camera was why he was ultimately arrested.

In December 2005, three television crews were prevented from covering the third round of voting in Egypt’s parliamentary elections.

In March 2004, Pakistan engaged in efforts "to stop foreign and local journalists from freely covering an offensive against Taliban and al-Qaeda supporters in the Wana region of South Waziristan."

In November 2002, prior to the U.S. invasion, French TV reporters in Iraq were preventedfrom filming. The reporters attempted to report on the "Oil Road" but were bullied and censored. Reporters Sans Frontieres reported, "Police even banned them from filming rubbish on the grounds saying "this is not good for the government’s image."

In February 2002, Palestinian police prevented journalists from covering the trial of three Palestinians charged with murder. The journalists managed to film a part of the trial but the "cassettes of the television teams were forfeited by police." This happened less than a year after a photographer and an editor for Reuters, a cameraman for APTV, the satellite television correspondent of Abou Dhabi and a photographer for the AFP had been arrested and forced to forefit their footage of a demonstration in a refugee camp in Nusseirat.

It may seem over-the-top to place the incident between BP and CBS in the context of incidents between governments and press in other countries. But, with the consent of a military organization like the Coast Guard, threats of arrest made against journalists or individuals seeking to conduct coverage of a situation especially in public areas like beaches must be compared because, if it is not challenged, the repression could rise to the level of actual arrest and detention of individuals on a regular basis.

Either journalists and individuals who believe in their right to document and gather information allow authorities, corporations or organizations to place restrictions on access or they challenge it. If challenged, invariably one must expect incidents like the ones covered byReporters Sans Frontieres to occur. If BP is serious about controlling the images and words seen in relation to the oil leak, they will have to repress people.

At a time when surveillance is entirely acceptable and normal, when cameras at traffic intersections photograph those running red lights, when cameras watch your every move in city, state, federal or private buildings, when street cameras track movements of people in areas thought to have high levels of crime, the public must decide whether it will or should assert its right to survey and cover anything in the same way that authorities, corporations or organizations would assert their right to survey and cover anything.

The democratization of media makes it possible for all of us to be, at least, amateur journalists. Coverage of events no longer has to be left up to officially recognized news organizations (see OpEdNews.com and countless other Internet news sites for further examples).

This is more than an issue of press freedom. This is an issue that concerns the public’s right to share and disseminate information.