Breaking News: Due to Public Outcry, Coast Guard Rescinds Ban of Reporters and Photographers from Oil Spill

Due to popular rage at the ban on reporters and photographers from within 65 feet of the oil spill, Coast Guard admiral Thad Allen has rescinded the ban.

Specifically, Allen announced tonight that the media will have full access, as long as they do not interfere with safety or security:

National Incident Commander Admiral Thad Allen today announced new procedures to allow media free travel within the 20-meter boom safety zones if they have followed simple procedures for credentialing, and provided they follow certain rules and guidelines.

"I have put out a direction that the press are to have clear, unfettered access to this event, with two exceptions — if there is a safety or security concern," said Allen. “This boom is critical to the defense of the marshes and the beaches.”

"We need to discriminate between media, which have a reason to be there and somebody who’s hanging around when we know that we’ve had equipment vital to this region damaged," Allen said.

Previously, media were required to contact local authorities each time they wished to access booming operations. The 20-meter safety zone was created to prevent boats from going over the top of booms; it is not intended to limit media access.

This step will further expand media access to frontlines of the BP oil spill response, and ensure that media representatives have the access they need to report this historic response-while maintaining the effectiveness of more than 560 miles of protective boom currently deployed to protect sensitive shorelines along the Gulf Coast.

A credential will be issued for media representatives to carry and display as needed for the duration of the response. Media representatives can obtain credentials by providing their name, media affiliation, and contact information to the Unified Area Command Joint Information Center

The credential outlines safety and security guidelines for media access-including adherence to all federal, state and local navigation rules and regulations, and other common-sense guidelines designed to protect boom while keeping everyone safe.

"We have provided unprecedented media access to the largest oil spill response in US history. We want the media and the public to see the tremendous unity of effort of 40,000 federal, state and local responders. We have provided hundreds of embarks on CG vessels and aircraft and we are offering overnight visits on a 210-foot Cutter forty miles offshore at the well site. We believe that by providing the media credentials for vessels, we will increase the ability of the media and the public to see the response effort," said Captain Jim McPherson, USCG spokesman.

Reporters who are denied access to any part of the response can call the UAC JIC at (713) 323-1670 for immediate assistance.

Congratulations to photographers like Julie Dermansky, who have tirelessly documented what’s really going on.

Congratulations to Anderson Cooper, who showed that a mainstream reporter can demand access.

Congratulations to the First Amendment.

What’s Next … "Free Reporting Zones"?

The government has made it a felony to get within 65 feet of clean-up operations. Reporters and photographers – including CNN’s Anderson Cooper – say that this will make it impossible to take pictures of oiled wildlife, or to accurately convey the effects of the oil spill.

Coast Guard Thad Allen says that local officials have complained that journalists are getting in the way. But no one can name a single official who has complained.
Apologists for the new law say that photographers can simply use a telephoto lense to get the shots.
But as the following photographs by Julie Dermansky show, you can only get emotionally powerful pictures if you can get right up close to the oil:

Dead fish on Grand Isle by jsdart.

(Dead fish on Grand Isle)

hermit crabs under oil sheen by jsdart.

(Hermit crabs covered in oil on the shore of Grand Terre Island in Barataria Bay)

Baby tern with minows left by its' mother by jsdart.

(Baby tern stuck in an oil patch on Grand Isle beach, with nearby fish abandoned by the bird’s mother)

BP oil on the Gulf of Mexico by jsdart.

(Oil on the surface of the Gulf of Mexico, blocking sunlight needed by phytoplankton and plants)

Oil on Alabama beach by jsdart.

(Oil flowing into the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, in Alabama; the white stuff is sand, the thick reddish-brown stuff is oil)

And see this must-see photo from the Atlantic’s story on Dermansky, this photo, and the rest of Dermansky’s portfolio here.
Indeed, preventing reporters and photographers from getting close to the oil spill is a little like forcing protesters into "free speech zones" miles from where the political event is actually occurring.
Is the government going to start having "free reporting zones" where journalists can write about whatever they want and photographers can take any pictures they want … inside a trailer miles away from the Gulf coast?