A month ago, National Incident Commander Thad Allen issued an order granting the media "uninhibited access" to the areas affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. It was routinely and often brazenly ignored.
Thirty days later, it should be said that the order essentially has no real-world meaning at all. Here's Daniel Tencer at Raw Story:
Journalists who come too close to oil spill clean-up efforts without permission could find themselves facing a $40,000 fine and even one to five years in prison under a new rule instituted by the Coast Guard late last week.
It's a move that outraged observers have decried as an attack on First Amendment rights. And CNN's Anderson Cooper describes the new rules as making it "very easy to hide incompetence or failure."
The Coast Guard order states that "vessels must not come within 20 meters [65 feet] of booming operations, boom, or oil spill response operations under penalty of law."
But since "oil spill response operations" apparently covers much of the clean-up effort on the beaches, CNN's Anderson Cooper describes the rule as banning reporters from "anywhere we need to be."
Apparently, a "willful violation" is a Class D felony, "which carr[ies] a penalty of one to five years in prison under federal law." It sort of sounds to me like "doing the standard work of a reporter" is the sort of thing that could end up being considered a "willful violation."
Naturally, I imagine this doesn't apply to BP's own fake reporters, or their fake reporting.
Hat tip to Glenn Greenwald, who has much more. I'd also recommend you read Huffington Post blogger Georgiane Nienaber's recent contributions: she is one of those would-be "willful violators" of the new rule, and she tells the incredibly true story of how the Coast Guard's media liaison happens to work for the same PR company that represents BP.