In recent weeks, journalists from CBS News, Mother Jones, the New York Daily News, and other media outlets have been reporting that BP has blocked them from photographing the dead animals and environmental degradation on the Gulf Coast as a result of the company’s oil spill. BP and the U.S. Coast Guard, however, have insisted that there are no restrictions on coverage:
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.
The Coast Guard might not have any prohibitions now, but BP sure tried. Powering a Nation, a student journalism initiative sponsored by the Carnegie and Knight Foundations, has obtained a contract BP made with local boat operators helping with the clean-up sign that explicitly barred them from talking to the media:
The contract included a clause prohibiting them and their deckhands from making “news releases, marketing presentation, or any other public statements” while working on the clean-up. It also included an additional section titled “Agreement Regarding Proprietary and Confidential Information,” which states that workers cannot disclose “Data” gathered while on the job, including “plans,” “reports,” “information” and “etc.”
Here are the relevant sections of the contract:
On May 24, however, someone named Tommy G. Mayet sent a letter, “on behalf of BP America Production Company,” to Vessel Opportunity Program members, informing them that Article 22 and Paragraph 5 (as well as other sections) had been deleted from the original contract because of a lawsuit. Nevertheless, the original contract has had a chilling effect on many fishermen, who remain nervous about talking to journalists. “Ultimately, BP is not directly limiting media contact,” writes the Powering a Nation reporters, “but the contract added more uncertainty on top of what the fishermen are already experiencing.”
Recently, a BP contract frustrated with the oil company’s cover-up surreptitiously escorted a New York Daily News crew around some of the affected sites, allowing them to observe a shore “littered with tarred marine life, some dead and others struggling under a thick coating of crud.” “There is a lot of coverup for BP,” said the contractor. “They specifically informed us that they don’t want these pictures of the dead animals. They know the ocean will wipe away most of the evidence.”