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BP Doesn’t Want You Filming, Move Along Now

8:17 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

 Photo by MindfulWalker

 

Drew Wheelan, conservation coordinator for the American Birding Association chose to film a video in Houma, Louisiana, with a BP building in the background. He stood right in a field that was private property but was not owned by BP. A police officer approached him and asked him for ID and “strongly suggested” he get lost because BP didn’t want people filming.

 

 

The two went back and forth. Wheelan asked if he was “violating any laws or anything like that.” The officer said “not particularly” but that BP didn’t want people filming. Wheelan said he was not on BP’s property and they had nothing to say about what he was doing right now. The officer restated that BP didn’t want people filming and then added all he could really do is strongly suggest he “not film anything right now. If that makes any sense.”

 

Wheelan continued the work he was doing. He finished up, got in his car and drove away only to be pulled over by the same cop. This time the cop had someone with him named Kenneth Thomas, who had a badge that read “Chief BP Security.”  Thomas interrogated Wheelan for 20 minutes asking “who he worked with, who he answered to, what he was doing, why he was down here in Louisiana, “phoned Wheelan’s information in, tried to figure out if he had any outstanding warrants, and then confiscated Wheelan’s Audubon volunteer badge from an Audubon/BP bird-helper volunteer training he had recently attended.

 

After bullying Wheelan for a period of time, he was let go, but as he drove away, “two unmarked security cars” followed him. He pulled over to figure out if they were following him. Each time he pulled over, the two unmarked vehicles pulled over behind him.

 

This is what Mac McClelland reported weeks ago from Louisiana. It’s one example of the authoritarian state that the corporation, BP, and the government, through the Coast Guard, National Guard, police officers, etc, have erected in the aftermath of the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. In the context of the society we live in, it is less of an anomaly than one might think.

 

Under “Spy Files,” in a post published in the last week of June titled, “More About Suspicious Activity Reporting,” the ACLU connects the targeting of photographers to the expansion of “suspicious activity reporting” (SAR) programs (programs set up to encourage the public to report ‘suspicious’ activities of their neighbors to law enforcement or intelligence agencies”):

 

Photographers appear to be the most frequent targets of SAR and SAR-like information collection efforts. Whether lawfully photographing scenic railroad stations, government-commissioned art displays outside federal buildings or national landmarks, citizens, artists and journalists have been systematically harassed or detained by federal, state, and local law enforcement. In some instances, the ensuing confrontation with police escalates to the point where the photographer is arrested and their photos erased or cameras confiscated with no reasonable indication that criminal activity is involved. A Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy even threatened to put a subway photographer on the Terrorist Watchlist. 

Comedian Stephen Colbert had a light-hearted take on the story of a man arrested by Amtrak police for photographing an Amtrak train for an Amtrak photography contest, but illegal arrests of innocent Americans exercising their right to photograph in public (like this and this and this) are happening too often to be just a laughing matter. Congress held hearings into the harassment of photographers at Washington, D.C.’s Union Station and at the U.S. Department of Transportation. Several government agencies, including the New York Police Department (NYPD), the San Francisco Municipal Transit Authority (MUNI), the Department of Transportation, and Amtrak have had to send out memos to their police officers and security personnel reiterating that photography is not a crime. Given the contradictory messages sent by SAR programs, however, it is not surprising there is confusion among the officers on the street…

 

What is the extent that SAR and other security programs have influenced the treatment of journalists, photographers, videographers, freelancers, etc? As the increase in security personnel on the Gulf Coast continues and becomes more and more a part of the narrative on the cleanup response (or lack thereof) in the Gulf, what might the influence of SAR program be on the treatment of press and independent videographers/photographers? How advantageous is the existence of SAR programs to BP and is BP using these programs to advance their agenda, to prevent the production of images, video and news reports that might negatively impact their market share, which recently rose 9 points?

 

One can see BP is exercising full authority with the cooperation of the U.S. government to severely limit access to areas where stories could be produced and told that would not follow BP’s official storyline (which seems to be that they will clean this up and find it honorable to have been tasked with the patriotic duty of “saving” the Gulf Coast). Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now!, wrote in a recent column:

 “Stories of denial of media access accumulate like tar balls on the beach (which have now made their way into Louisiana’s Lake Pontchartrain and to beaches in Texas). “PBS NewsHour” reporters were repeatedly denied access to a Department of Health and Human Services “National Disaster Medical System” trailer, ringed with barbed wire. A “CBS Evening News” crew on a boat was accosted by another boat with five BP contractors and two U.S. Coast Guard members, and denied access to an oil-drenched beach.”

 

Adm. Thad Allen issued a directive days before the Fourth of July requiring individuals and organizations to obtain direct permission to get closer than 65 feet to any response vessels or booms out on the water or on beaches. Violators could face a fine of $40,000 and Class D felony charges. The directive ran counter to a public claim made earlier in June that the media was receiving uninhibited access.

 

McClelland and others have been conducting high-quality investigative reporting, confronting police blockades and areas where media access has been all but limited or shut off.

 

That said, what happened to Wheelan should be distinguished from media organizations. Wheelan does not have the protections someone with credentials might normally have. Individuals who do what they do have little to shield them from police intimidation that might occur as a result of requests made by property owners or nearby property owners. And, law enforcement may not understand what they are being told is repressive and out-of-line. They may not care and, in the case of Wheelan, one might find out the police officer was actually off-duty and working for BP. (To here more, listen to Mac McClelland talking with Glenn Greenwald on Salon Radio.)

 

However, in the case of the Pro Publica journalist being detained, your job in the media may not protect you from security interfering with your work at all.  

World Oceans Day: Soon to Be World Dead Zones Day?

9:41 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

Flickr Photo by NOAA’s National Ocean Service

The Ocean Project, which consists of over one thousand aquariums, zoos, museums and conservation organizations, has designated June 8th “World Oceans Day.” This day, which earned official recognition from the United Nations General Assembly as the result of a resolution passed in December 2008, is a new celebrated day, and, as oil continues to gush at perhaps 100,000 barrels a day into the Gulf of Mexico (which connects to the Atlantic Ocean), this day carries even more significance.

 

Ocean conservation is essential to the future of our planet. In fact, the UN recently reported on estimates from a report indicating the world could face fishless oceans in 40 years, a notion that should frighten all the people of the world into becoming stewards of the Earth.

 

The Ocean Project says people should celebrate World Oceans Day because the world’s oceans “generate most of the oxygen we breathe, help feed us, regulate our climate, clean the water we drink, offer us a pharmacopoeia of medicines, and provide limitless inspiration.

 

Those behind the day have the best of intentions when it comes to World Oceans Day. They would like people all over the world to change the perspective of others who do not understand what oceans have to offer, to discover how daily actions affect oceans and how we are all interconnected, to change our ways and act as caretakers for the ocean, and/or to participate in activities and celebrate the oceans of the world.

 

One would like to think the most obvious threat to oceans would be on the table for discussion: the continued practice of offshore oil drilling in deep and shallow areas of the ocean. The Gulf oil disaster caused by BP, Transocean and Halliburton should compel us to justify the risks being created, which contribute to further pollution of the world’s oceans.

 

Unfortunately, World’s Oceans Day is likely to be marked insincerely. The news is President Obama is going to re-open waters to shallow oil production. Before any investigative commission provides a report on moving forward after this disaster, the Obama Administration is bowing to the oil lobby and doing it on the World Oceans Day; one could liken this move to cutting aid to African countries stricken with AIDS on World AIDS Day.

 

President Obama appears to think repeating angry toothless rhetoric about BP’s CEO Tony Hayward over and over again–rhetoric which creates the perception that he does not like that Hayward continues to control BP and how cleanup efforts continue in the Gulf–will get America through this crisis that may last until Christmas and be enough to convince Americans major changes to the regulation of oil companies are going to be made. It seems President Obama is doing this for show and not because this is all the federal government can do.

 

The Pew Oceans Commission understands that the oceans are in crisis. They find the BP oil disaster intersects with campaigns to secure protections for bluefin tuna, end overfishing in the Southeast, protect life in the Arctic, conserve sharks, address global warming and develop a clean energy policy. It also brings to the forefront the need for a national ocean policy.

 

The Commission describes why a national ocean policy is necessary:

 

 

The increasing industrialization of our oceans threatens the fragile health of marine ecosystems.  If poorly planned or managed, drilling for oil and natural gas in federal waters, developing aquaculture and building wind, wave and tidal energy facilities all have the potential to damage America’s marine environment. Currently, several federal agencies manage industrial activities in our oceans under a number of statutes, and there is little coordination or consideration of the cumulative impacts their decisions have on the health and productivity of marine ecosystems and coastal communities.

 

Among its cardinal recommendations, the Pew Oceans Commission called for establishing an enforceable national policy to protect, maintain and restore the health of marine ecosystems.  This will not only support economically and culturally valuable fisheries, but also provide countless recreational opportunities for the public and protect critically important ecological services, such as air and water purification.  The commission also recommended changing the organizational structure and laws governing our oceans to make their protection and productivity a priority, and it urged better coordination and management of the full spectrum of activities affecting marine resources.  Finally, it proposed establishing a permanent source of funding for ocean and coastal conservation and management. [emphasis added]

 

Not only do Americans need to recognize the folly of expanding oil drilling in American oceans without a clear policy to protect the oceans and properly regulate oil rigs, but Americans need to recognize the threat global warming poses to the oceans (and face up to the reality that increased oil production contributes to global warming).

 

Sadly, there has been a decrease in the number of Americans who find global warming to be a concern. Media coverage and political discussion of “climate change” (the political re-branding of global warming) has led people to doubt the science behind global warming despite the fact that there is very, very little debate (if any) among scientists on whether global warming is taking place or not.

 

Sixty-seven percent responded in a Gallup poll in March of this year that they do not think global warming will pose a serious threat to them or their way of life in their lifetime while thirty-two percent said yes it would pose a threat and affect them at some point in their lifetime. The poll also found that more and more Americans think natural causes are responsible for the change in the Earth’s temperature, not human activity.

 

Oil and energy lobbyists whose utmost concerns are profit and short-term gains have conspired against science and worked tirelessly to sow doubt in the minds of Americans through public relations campaigns, “astroturf” citizens’ groups, and fake research studies that skew data to favor their free market agenda. The American Enterprise Institute, which receives a substantial amount of money from ExxonMobil, planned “Energy Citizen Rallies” in 2009 to attack “climate change” legislation in Congress.

 

People like Art Robinson, who is running for Congress on the GOP ticket, also increase the likelihood that the planet’s oceans will become total dead zones. Robinson claimed in an issue of a newsletter he edited in 2004 called Access to Energy:

 

“Wastes dumped into the deep ocean will soon reach the bottom, where they are less hazardous than nearly any other place on Earth. Most materials will remain there: marine organisms are rare in the deep ocean, food chains are long, and few materials will be carried back to mankind. And that is what waste disposal is all about…”

 

“…The oil companies’ reckless greed, we are told, has devastated the oceans with their oil spills. Baloney…”

 

“…As for oil spills in the open and deep ocean, they amount to far less than natural seeps and river runoff, and any unbiased oceanographer will confirm that they are a boon to marine life, inflicting damage mainly on the oil and shipping companies. For crude oil is a natural, organic, biodegradable product of the earth’s ancient plant and animal life, and it is this type of hydrocarbon that marine life in the open and deep ocean is starved for…”

 

“…The environment, then, has no better protector than its owner, and no worse enemy than a system where everything belongs to “the people.” Species are endangered when they belong to everybody and nobody; and nothing short of the profit motive will protect them.”

 

If the future of the world’s oceans are not endangered by arrogant numbskulls preaching the Gospel of the Free Markets like Robinson, then they are significantly at risk by people like Dick Armey who preach the Gospel of Christian Fanaticism (and manufacture Tea Party rallies through ventures like FreedomWorks).

 

Appearing as a witness at a Republican bicameral hearing on climate change legislation on Capitol Hill in July of 2009, Armey testified:

 

DICK ARMEY: What I’m suggesting is we have a sort of an eco-evangelical hysteria going on and it leads me to almost wonder if we are becoming a nation of environmental hypochondriacs that are willing to use the power of the state to impose enormous restrictions on the rights and the comforts of, and incomes of individuals who serve essentially a paranoia, a phobia, that has very little fact evidence in fact. Now these are observations that are popular to make because right now its almost taken as an article of faith that this crisis is real. Let me say I take it as an article of faith if the lord God almighty made the heavens and the Earth, and he made them to his satisfaction and it is quite pretentious of we little weaklings here on earth to think that, that we are going to destroy God’s creation. [...]

SEN. ORRIN HATCH: Mr. Armey it’s great to have you here. Great to see you again and we appreciate all you’ve done throughout the years and your work on Capitol Hill. Great job. [emphasis added by Think Progress]

 

What’s worse? Armey’s comments or the fact that this country has senators like Orrin Hatch who praise people for making pathologically insane comments like these in hearings that should be based in science?

 

The goals of World Oceans Day are paramount. However, this country doesn’t understand the value of the environment. Many may suggest that humans have a duty to protect and preserve the environment but far too many think God or the Almighty Dollar will save the environment and are blind to the reality that Mother Nature is under siege from fanaticism and free market desires.

 

One can hope more Americans will find the moral fortitude and courage to take on those that spread disinformation to pollute science, which demonstrates global warming is a threat to our oceans. One can hope more Americans will directly call out this country’s inability to have a future focus, which forgets short-term profit and favors the long-term protection of the environment for future generations of Americans.

 

Unfortunately, anger and frustration seem to be better responses than hope. Hope often makes people passive. As it becomes obvious the world’s oceans need the help of thousands if not millions of citizens now more than ever, the oceans need physical and meaningful action, not hope.

Oil Leak Press Conference: Must Domestic Oil Production Continue?

2:50 pm in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

President Obama held a press conference this afternoon and gave the White House press corps an opportunity to gain more information on the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico.

Obama announced four key oil explorations/operations moratoriums (both temporary and possibly permanent) during the press conference. He did not, however, announce a permanent end to offshore drilling or an end to domestic oil production.

The four key "moratoriums" announced were: a suspension of planned exploration of two locations off the coast of Alaska, the cancellation of a pending lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico and the proposed lease sale off
the coast of Virginia, a continuation of the moratorium on the issuance of permits to drill new deepwater wells for six months, and a suspension of action on 33 deepwater exploratory wells being drilled in the Gulf of Mexico.

While such action is commendable and a necessary response to the disaster, how long will these "moratoriums" last?

The way Obama framed the situation, it seems like the future of the oil industry and when these "moratoriums" are lifted or not lifted will rest in the hands of the independent commission the

Obama Administration is organizing (former Sen. Bob Graham and former head of EPA William K. Reilly were recently appointed to head the commission; five more members will be added to the commission soon).

Obama repeated four times the reality that domestic oil production was "important" and not going to become a thing of the past as a result of the disaster.

After outlining failures of oversight among members of the Minerals Management Services (MMS), the federal regulatory agency taking the fall for most of the negligence within government prior to this disaster, Obama said, "I continue to believe that oil production is important, domestic oil production is important. But I also believe, we can’t do this stuff if we don’t have confidence that we can prevent crises from — like this from happening again."

Obama did not discuss the reality that accidents will happen again. He did, however, suggest that something must be done to ensure that "worst-case scenarios" do not happen again. But, how can government reasonably assure that something like this will not happen in the future? What does federal government have to do to
regulate the wider oil industry properly?

Obama and others involved in the response effort are presumably aware of what went on between BP and government. Obama said during the conference, "the oil industry’s cozy and sometimes corrupt relationship with government regulators meant little or no regulation at all." Members of the administration may not publicly admit it, but they know such a cozy relationship cannot continue if accidents are going to be prevented (and, right now, there is little sign that the close ties government enjoys with oil companies like BP are going to be severed).

And, supposing the MMS, Environmental Protection Agency, and other regulatory agencies involved in regulating did bring an end to their practices of negligence and facilitation, which contributed to the BP oil disaster, is that really enough to ensure future disasters do not happen? All too often the leadership in government is willing to let corporations like BP practice self-regulation, a dangerous policy as evidenced by it’s decisions to take cost-cutting measures over safety measures that would have contributed to the prevention of the disaster.

Capitol Hill has been teeming with hearings, which anyone can watch on C-SPAN. Executives and lawyers affiliated with Transocean, Halliburton and BP (and other companies with connections to the disaster and cleanup effort) have all been appearing before political leaders to answer questions about what their company
did and did not do. Many are forcing executives to address the $75 million liability cap, a cap that is part of a law known as the 1990 Oil Pollution Act, which was passed after the Exxon Valdez disaster. Political leaders want to know if BP and all those involved are going to pay damages over the cap to people most affected by the disaster.

Of course, all are willing to commit to pay over. They’re willing to make that corporate promise. They’re even willing to change the law so the companies they work for will have to give up more of their profits. How surprising…

Congressmen ask what they would suggest the law be changed to and executives indicate that they have suggestions on what would be good alterations to the cap and the entire law.

Isn’t this backwards? Why should the corporations responsible for this get to suggest what the new laws should be? But, that’s the way it goes and why corporate promises to pay "legitimate claims" over the liability cap in the law deserve a certain level of skepticism. What’s to say that these tacit commitments become anything more than tacit commitments? What keeps these executives and politicians from going to a back room to negotiate ways to externalize the costs and pass it off to Americans, the consumers and
taxpayers?

Obama was unwilling to ask citizens to consider the costs of oil consumption or oil as a key energy source used in America. Instead, he said, "And in the meantime, I should also say that Americans can help by
continuing to visit the communities and beaches of the Gulf Coast. I was
talking to the governors just a couple of days ago, and they wanted me to
remind everybody that, except for three beaches in Louisiana, all of the Gulf’s
beaches are open, they are safe and they are clean."

Obama would rather citizens be consumers than conservationists conscientious and concerned about their impact and America’s impact on the globe.

People know the corporations are willing to take risks. Like corporations on Wall Street, they find it entirely acceptable to gamble and let citizens suffer the consequences of their greedy or negligent business practices. And, if government is going to have such a "cozy relationship," they know their will be no repercussions for their behavior.

Oil companies in America involved in domestic oil production and offshore drilling will always be cutting corners. In this moment, Obama and most politicians are content with reassuring concerned citizens that from now on the federal government will be properly enforcing regulations. Unfortunately, this has been said before and warrants skepticism.

If government regulation of oil corporations is what stands between us and another worst-case scenario oil disaster, than it’s perhaps necessary to rethink the notion of drilling and producing oil in this country altogether.

So, on domestic oil production and the idea that it must be part of the energy mix in America, is that really how it has to be? This editorial — "12 Steps to Get U.S. Off Oil" —offers some ideas worth considering. And, this
from the National Journal titled, "How Can the U.S. Wean Itself Off of Oil?" has some good insight too.

Unfortunately, in the same way that shopping wasn’t an acceptable citizen response to 9/11, going to the beach is not an acceptable citizen response to this disaster. Finding the collective will within our country to get off oil so as to actually help prevent future BP oil disasters is a much better response instead.

“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.

Obama’s Oil Spill Panel: Will It Be Better or Worse Than Carter’s Three Mile Island Accident Commission?

9:25 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

In the next few days, President Obama will announce the formation of an independent commission to investigate the Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster. The commission will likely be similar to previous commissions convened by presidents to investigate the space shuttle Challenger disaster and the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island.

The commission convened will likely face tremendous pressure from BP, Transocean, Halliburton, and other oil and energy company interests who wish to ensure the commission organized by the Obama Administration does not come to a decision that puts further constraints on offshore drilling or drilling for oil altogether.

McClatchy Newspapers reported May 18, 2010, that BP is withholding facts about the oil leak into the Gulf of Mexico and the Obama Administration is allowing BP to withhold facts. The story said:

"… the results of tests on the extent of workers’ exposure to evaporating oil or from the burning of crude over the gulf, even though researchers say that data is crucial in determining whether the conditions are safe.

Moreover, the company isn’t monitoring the extent of the spill and only reluctantly released videos of the spill site that could give scientists a clue to the amount of the oil in gulf.

BP’s role as the primary source of information has raised questions about whether the government should intervene to gather such data and to publicize it and whether an adequate cleanup can be accomplished without the details of crude oil spreading across the gulf.

Private assurances to not follow all the data and testimony from workers, researchers, and scientists on the disaster may also be made so that information in any published report will have a limited negative impact on oil companies like BP.

Time constraints will likely be placed on the commission that will impact or hurry the work of the commission like time constraints did for the commission that investigated the Three Mile Island accident.

A "Supplemental View by Bruce Babbitt," former governor of Arizona who served on the commission that investigated the Three Mile Island accident stated:

"We had a real problem coming to grips with this issue because of the time constraints on examining the characteristics of other utilities operating nuclear power plants. I can, therefore, understand the difficulties in formulating a specific recommendation at this time.

Yet I must believe that our findings do support more than what we have said here by way of recommendations. We cannot simply urge the utility, industry, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to pay more attention to safety and to establish higher standards.

While this Commission has clearly addressed the institutional shortcomings of the NRC in its recommendations, it has not addressed the institutional problems of the industry."

The likelihood that the commission will not investigate the full extent of the accident and address the systematic or institutional failings of oil companies certainly exists.

The Three Mile Island Commission was a decent selection of individuals that combined a diversity of institutional perspectives. In addition to Babbitt, Patrick E. Haggerty, co-founder of Texas Instruments, Inc., Carolyn Lewis, Assoc. Prof. of the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University, Paul A. Marks, Vice President for Health Sciences and Frode Jensen Professor at Columbia University, Cora B. Marrett, Prof. of Sociology and Afro-American Studies at the Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison, Lloyd McBride, President of the United Steelworkers of America, Harry C. McPherson, a partner with Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard, and McPherson, Russell W. Peterson, President of the National Audubon Society, Thomas H. Pigford, Prof. and Chairman of the Dept. of Nuclear Engineering at U.C. Berkeley, Theodore B. Taylor, visiting lecturer at the Dept. of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Princeton University, and Anne D. Trunk, a resident of Middletown, Pennsylvania, all served on the Commission.

Voices present on that commission that should be present on the one convened by the Obama Administration include a health scientist, a voice who can speak about the impact oil has on wildlife, a union leader who can speak on behalf of the workers, an engineer who can discuss the reality of oil drilling, and, most importantly, a resident from the Gulf coast who can testify on the impact of the oilrig disaster in his or her community.

There is a small likelihood that the Obama Administration convenes a truly diverse panel on the oil rig explosion and leak in the Gulf. As Politicoreports, there are at least two investigations that have been started on the disaster: Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is leading a study of the causes of the oil rig explosion; Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar is working on how to split up the Minerals Management Service (MMS) into two agencies so oil drilling can be better regulated and reviewing the rules for drilling. Those investigations may be continued and finished and become the extent of the commission’s investigations; whether new, original investigations are launched for the purposes of a comprehensive public report on the disaster is probably unlikely given the track record of presidential commissions in the past decade.

Finally, it is possible that voices will not be as independent as the administration would like us to believe. Players appointed to investigate will likely be from institutions that sound like good organizations that conduct good research and studies. Upon further investigation, they will probably be revealed to have ties to the very companies or industry being investigated.

The public should hope the Obama Administration surprises those concerned about the future of the Gulf of Mexico, the people in communities on the Gulf coast, the nature and wildlife in the region, the wellbeing of workers who are employed by energy companies, and the impact on oil on planet Earth. But, the reality is that President Obama made an announcement calling for new areas to be open for offshore drilling weeks before the oil rig disaster.

Be weary of the fact that companies could use this disaster to re-brand their companies, regain the confidence of politicians, up their funding of key political leaders in shrewd manners that are not altogether obvious when campaign spending reports are disclosed, and continue to obstruct movement towards dependency on clean, renewable energy in this country.

The oil rig disaster was tragic. The aftermath could be even more tragic if the people are not vigilantly following the work of all those involved in investigating the tragedy.

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