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4 Ways BP and Officials Are Working to Suppress the Outrageous Facts About the Gulf Disaster

From intimidating reporters to trying to enforce no-fly zones, there seems to be a concerted effort to block public access to information.
 
 
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With BP's oil gusher in the gulf approaching two months, public anger is approaching the boiling point. When will the oil spilling into the gulf be stopped and what remediation can be done for the ecosystem and the local economy? Those of us who aren't at ground zero have to rely on what the media is reporting -- which is turning into an outrageous scandal of its own.

"Journalists struggling to document the impact of the oil rig explosion have repeatedly found themselves turned away from public areas affected by the spill, and not only by BP and its contractors, but by local law enforcement, the Coast Guard and government officials," wrote Jeremy W. Peters for the New York Times. "To some critics of the response effort by BP and the government, instances of news media being kept at bay are just another example of a broader problem of officials' filtering what images of the spill the public sees. Scientists, too, have complained about the trickle of information that has emerged from BP and government sources. Three weeks passed, for instance, from the time the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded on April 20 and the first images of oil gushing from an underwater pipe were released by BP."

So what's really going on? Is there is concerted effort to block information from reaching the public? Here are four examples that point to a widespread effort to suppress public access to information about an environmental disaster -- we may still not yet know exactly how bad this thing is, or how bad it's going to get.

1. Restricting Access

One of the most common complaints so far from journalists is that they are having problems getting the access they need to do their jobs -- like CBS, which reported its news team was threatened with arrest while attempting to get footage of an oil-soaked public beach. Weeks of similar complaints resulted in a memo issued by Doug Suttles, BP's chief operating officer, claiming that the company is not interfering with press access.

The memo states: "Recent media reports have suggested that individuals involved in the cleanup operation have been prohibited from speaking to the media, and this is simply untrue. BP fully supports and defends all individuals' rights to share their personal thoughts and experiences with journalists if they so choose."

But when WDSU news anchor Scott Walker tried to interview cleanup workers on a public beach on Grand Isle, LA, private security guards tried to prevent him. The news agency reports: "He told the guards he intended to ask contracted cleanup crews about their efforts while workers were on their breaks. The guards told Walker he could not question the workers and was not allowed on the public beach."

And Walker hasn't been alone. The New York Times reported a similar incident on Grand Isle by media from the New York Daily News. "The contractor summoned a local sheriff, who then told the reporter, Matthew Lysiak, that news media had to fill out paperwork and then be escorted by a BP official to get access to the beach," the article said. "'For the police to tell me I needed to sign paperwork with BP to go to a public beach?' Mr. Lysiak said. 'It's just irrational.'"

And it's not just Grand Isle; many journalists have been stymied trying to get in the air to get a glimpse of the scope and damage of the disaster. Flight restriction over the water have prevented many from doing so. "Each time they fly in the area, they have to be granted permission from the F.A.A.," reported the New York Times.

Can't get into the air or interview subjects on the beach -- how about taking a boat ride? Well, that's pretty tough, too. Reporting for Earth Island Journal, Jason Marks writes that at Grande Isle, "The beaches are no-go zones even for homeowners with beachfront property, and the press can hit the sand only by going through a complicated credentialing process. The Coast Guard is arranging media tours by boat, but the waiting list is close to a week long. Charter boats are either hard to find (most of the captains are working for BP), or else relatively expensive ($300 for an afternoon on the water)."

Clearly this is problematic, if you're trying to let the public know what's going on. As Peters concedes, "Media access in disaster situations is always an issue. But the situation in the gulf is especially nettlesome because journalists have to depend on the government and BP to gain access to so much of the affected area."

And if you're BP or the U.S government, there's a really good chance you don't want people to know just how bad things really are.

2. Hiding Evidence

"It looks as if someone is destroying evidence at the scene of the crime," Keith Olbermann reported days ago. Marine biologist Dr. Riki Ott told Olbermann of reports from wildlife volunteers who are walking the beaches that oiled wildlife keeps disappearing in the night. "In my opinion there is a strong attempt, not only to minimize how much oil was spilling, but now to control the evidence of the damage," Ott told Olbermann.

In a recent article, she explained:

 
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