Let us all spare a moment to bow our heads in silence as we consider the fatal blow that has been dealt to the First Amendment. While this cornerstone of democracy sinks beneath the oleaginous waves of the Gulf, we can only mourn its loss – and ours.

According to CNN reports, the government has issued a new edict that would make it a felony crime for any journalist, photographer or reporter to even approach any oil cleanup operation, personnel or equipment in the Gulf.  Anyone who violates this draconian law is subject to arrest, a $40,000 fine and prosecution for a federal felony crime.

CNN reporter Anderson Cooper: “A new law passed today, and backed by the force of law and the threat of fines and felony charges, will prevent reporters and photographers from getting anywhere close to booms and oil-soaked wildlife — just about any place we need to be. By now you’re probably familiar with cleanup crews stiff-arming the media, private security blocking cameras, ordinary workers clamming up, some not even saying who they’re working for because they’re afraid of losing their jobs.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uXsmLMV1CrM”> I suggest that you watch the entire clip.

As Cooper reported, “Now the government is getting in on the act. Despite what Admiral Thad Allen promised about transparency just nearly a month ago.”

(Thad Allen: “The media will have uninhibited access anywhere we’re doing operations.”)

Anderson Cooper: “The Coast Guard today announced new rules keeping photographers, reporters, and anyone else from coming with 65 feet of any response vessel or booms out on the water or on beaches. What this means is that oil-soaked birds on an island surrounded by a boom, you can’t get close enough to take that picture. Shot of oil on beaches with booms? Stay 65 feet away. Pictures of oil-soaked booms uselessly laying in the water because they haven’t been collected like they should? You can’t get close enough to see that. Believe me, that is out there. But you only know that if you get close to it, and now you can’t without permission. Violators could face a fine of $40,000 and Class D felony charges.”

I don’t know about you, but I find this both sickening and frightening. The Coast Guard has stated “The safety zone has been put in place to protect members of the response effort, the installation and maintenance of oil containment boom, the operation of response equipment and protection of the environment by limiting access to and through deployed protective boom.”

This does little to explain the gag order imposed on all volunteers and employees or the fact that reporters and photographers are repeatedly strong-armed from any operation areas on the land or the water. Some of the most reliable and comprehensive information that I am receiving is from the local residents in the Gulf states. Unless BP intends to evict them and confiscate their cameras and computers, information will continue to be disseminated around the world.

Here’s an article that sums up the situation – and the frustration http://www.huffingtonpost.com/georgianne-nienaber/facing-the-future-as-a-me_b_634661.html

This is certainly not the first time that BP has done this. In 2005 a photographer taking pictures of a BP refinery in Texas City, Texas (after a blast there killed 15 workers in 2005 and released vast amounts of toxic gases into the atmosphere) was detained by a BP security official, local police and a man who said he was from the Department of Homeland Security (that all-purpose law-making machine).

The photographer, Lance Rosenfield, said that the officials confronted him shortly after he arrived in Texas City. Rosenfield was released after officials pored over the pictures he had taken and took down his personal information (date of birth, Social Security number, etc). The information was then turned over to the BP security guard who said that this was “standard procedure”. Rosenfield, a freelance photographer, said that he was followed by a BP employee after taking a picture on a public road near the refinery and then cornered by two police cars at a gas station.

This is BP’s modus operandi — but it is unconscionable for the Dept. of Homeland Security and the USCG to support such an egregious violation of First Amendment rights.

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Alex Kearns

Alex Kearns

Alex writes for a variety of national and international publications. A relative newcomer to the United States, she co-founded her town's first environmental organization (The St. Marys EarthKeepers, Inc.). In turns bemused, confused, entranced, frustrated and delighted, she enjoys unravelling the eternal enigma that is the Deep South.