In December, three people were detained, and one was told to stop filming, at the TSA checkpoint in the LA-Ontario (CA) airport. Getting harassed for filming at a checkpoint? Not unusual. Even though it is permitted, with the exception of filming the monitors, the personnel stationed there are of course hyper-touchy about the subject. (Mostly, I guess, because they don’t want the footage to appear on YouTube — skip to 0:56 of the video).
Those three people have an interesting backstory though. They are filmmakers and founders of Project Gulf Impact, which aims to document and expose the impact of the BP oil spill.
When Matt Smith, Gavin Garrison, and Heather Rally of Project Gulf Impact arrived at Ontario Airport in California Tuesday evening to board a plane headed back to the Gulf of Mexico, all three of them were pulled aside by TSA agents and patted down. Coincidentally, they were the only three people pulled out of the security lines.
If these people were singled out, and it seems extremely fishy if there wasn’t something going on behind the scenes, it is just more cause to be cynical about our government and this sad, sad world we live in. Especially because some hack is trying to bully them about a “federal law” that just isn’t accurate. And especially after all the uproar in November when people were getting enraged over the lack of rights at these checkpoints. And especially because it’s just wrong.
Published July 12, 2010
Police Harassment , Security Guard Harassment
Tags: anti-terrorism measures, BP, gulf coast, Homeland Security, Lance Rosenfield, oil spill, PBS Frontline, photographing refineries, ProPublica
Last week we posted on freelance photographer Lance Rosenfield’s run-in with law enforcement/BP Gestapo while on assignment for ProPublica and PBS Frontline.
The Galveston County Daily News has now published dashboard cam video of the encounter where you can see the officer phoning in Rosenfield’s details to the local FBI, or “frickin’ Homeland Security guy,” noting that he was in the public right of way and basically doing nothing wrong. When Rosenfield objects to his personal information being given to BP’s private security force, he’s told that they are “a certain type of law enforcement.”
Officer Kreitemeyer admits he’s just “going through the motions.” Meanwhile, the first amendment dies a slow death.
As ProPublia’s Stephen Engelberg reports in this piece, The Galveston County Daily News’ has tried unsucessfully to press the police to name the law that allows them to review photos. Associate Editor Mike Smith:
“Nobody can point to a law of the United States of America or the State of Texas that allows police to do this. This is an assumed power that the police have taken on themselves based on this amorphous notion that the demands of the security state allow this and if you’re a good citizen, you shouldn’t make a fuss.”
See more videos at ProPublica
A new rule went into effect last Thursday that bars journalists, reporters and photographers from getting within 65 feet of the oil-soaked beaches, wildlife and booms in the Louisiana Gulf. What does this mean for news coverage going forward? Oh, just that it’ll be really, really sanitized. We’ll no longer see those heartbreaking/maddening photos of sad birds drenched in oil or booms sitting uselessly in marshlands.
Violators could face a fine of $40,000, a felony charge and one to five years in jail. The Coast Guard’s point man Thad Allen says it’s not unusual at all to establish these kinds of safety zones. Hmm…but it does seem unusual to establish this zone on day 73 of the worst oil spill disaster in US history — after nearly three months of futile efforts that are only working toward making BP and government officials in charge of this clean-up look evermore incompetent. It’s so blatantly self-serving, it’s hard to believe they think we’re that dumb. But they’ll get away with it, so I guess we are that dumb.
Anderson Cooper is pissed — as we all should be! He makes a good case for transparency above, saying a rule like this ”makes it very easy to hide failure and hide incompetence.” We have a right to see how this spill is unfolding. This is the system of checks and balances — and we need it; it works quite well in disasters like these. Write your representative. Demand they abolish this rule. Don’t take this one lying down.
Read more about this story on Slate, The Raw Story and The Huffington Post.
Published July 4, 2010
Photographers' Rights , Police Harassment , Security Guard Harassment
Tags: anti-terrorism measures, BP, Homeland Security, Lance Rosenfield, oil spill, PBS, photographing refineries, ProPublica
Refineries are typically dicey places for photography — even from public vantage points — because oil companies evidently are above the law and the government typically backs them up on that. Add BP and the biggest oil spill in US history to the mix, and well, you can imagine what ensues.
On Friday, Lance Rosenfield, a photographer working on a piece jointly produced by PBS Frontline and ProPublica, was harassed and detained by a Homeland Security officer, two police officers and a security guard at a BP refinery in Texas City, TX. After Rosenfield took a photo of a Texas City road sign, he was followed and surrounded at a gas station where the trio told him they had a right to look at his photos — even if they were shot on public property — and if he didn’t comply he would be taken in. After giving them his vital stats (which are no doubt now filed away on some terrorist watchlist), Rosenfield was released and no charges were filed.
From ProPublica‘s editor in chief:
We certainly appreciate the need to secure the nation’s refineries. But we’re deeply troubled by BP’s conduct here, especially when they knew we were working on deadline on critical stories about this very facility. And we see no reason why, if law enforcement needed to review the unpublished photographs, that should have included sharing them with a representative of a private company.
BP maintains it followed “industry practice that is required by federal law.” I would like to see this federal law challenged in court because I have a feeling taking photos of a public street is a constitutionally protected activity.
See all of Rosenfield’s Texas City photos here
What more is there to say? The oil spill is a disaster and BP are jerks.
Watch the above video as Drew Wheelan, conservationist coordinator for the American Birding Association, tries to film BP’s offices in Houma, Louisiana — from across the street.
Wheelan: ”Am I violating any laws or anything like that?”
Officer: ”Um…not particularly. BP doesn’t want people filming.”
Wheelan: ”Well, I’m not on their property so BP doesn’t have anything to say about what I do right now.”
Officer: ”Let me explain: BP doesn’t want any filming. So all I can really do is strongly suggest that you not film anything right now. If that makes any sense.”
Article from Mother Jones (via Thomas Hawk)
Even though BP released a statement emphatically saying they are not hindering media access to the spill or anyone involved in the cleanup, things are still tense on the ground. This video is a great exchange between New Orleans TV reporter Scott Walker and some BP contractors from something called Talon Security. The hapless contractor does his best to enforce orders from higher up, even though he can’t really say why he’s doing it. Still, Walker doggedly tries to talk to a worker on break, but the security staffer is adamant that that would be disrupting the cleanup efforts.
Security: “Sir, you cannot talk to anyone there.”
Walker: “Can I yell from a distance?”
Security: “No! I’m sorry, but that’s the way it is.”
And by the way, did you hear how Texas Rep. Joe Barton actually apologized to BP CEO Tony Hayward for the “shakedown” he’s getting from the White House? I think my head is going to explode. And then all the usual wingnuts like Michele Bachmann and Rush Limbaugh got on board, wailing about partisan political crap. Not surprisingly, Barton has received over a million dollars from big oil since 1990, the most of any House member in the same timeframe.
A bottom-dwelling eel found dead on the surface of the BP oil slick. Eels are normally never found on the surface unless pulled up from the bottom by shrimping trawlers. Photo by NWFblogs
Sometimes presidents just don’t get it, do they? When President Obama visited the beleaguered Gulf Coast last week, he made the requisite speech about hearing the constituents’ concerns. ”The cameras at some point may leave; the media may get tired of the story; but we will not,” he said.
But as The New York Times Media Decoder blog pointed out, this was a puzzling assessment but also typical administration boilerplate. In fact, the media has been there for six weeks now. They’ve actually even been prevented from covering the biggest environmental disaster in US history by BP and government officials who have seemingly been working against them.
And it really resonates when someone as prominent as NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams speaks out about it, too. As he told the NYT:
“I think the phrase about the cameras leaving is just something that presidential speech writers keep on an F8 key, the kind of stuff they just say, but in this case, it was really off the mark,” he said. “We have all been all over this story and I haven’t seen any sign that we will packing up the cameras any time soon.”
The piece says the story is over-covered if anything. And the public’s interest isn’t waning, according to a Pew Research poll that found 55% of Americans are following the spill “very closely.”
Article from New York Times
Photo by BP America © BP p.l.c.
Rescued sea turtle. Photo by Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries
It’s official: The BP oil spill is now bigger than that other catastrophic disaster, 1989′s Exxon Valdez, and the worst in US history. And as you might expect in the nefarious, super-connected, high stakes world of Big Oil, there are a lot of people who don’t want the full calamity of that known and reported on.
So local and federal officials, under orders from BP no doubt, are trying to restrict where photojournalists can go. We posted on this earlier in the week, when a CBS News crew encountered some Coast Guard officers and BP contractors who threatened them with arrest if they didn’t leave the oil-covered shoreline.
Not surprisingly, it wasn’t a one-time occurence. A Mother Jones’ reporter wrote about his own account of coming up against local officials while trying to survey the scene at Elmer’s Island Wildlife Refuge (he was told BP’s in charge because “it’s BP’s oil”). And in a Newsweek piece that runs down the restrictions on press coverage, they mention a Times-Picayune photojournalist whose flyover of the affected areas was canceled once BP officials got wind of it.
“It’s a running joke among the journalists covering the story that the words ‘Coast Guard’ affixed to any vehicle, vessel, or plane should be prefixed with ‘BP,’ ” says Charlie Varley, a Louisiana-based photographer. “It would be funny if it were not so serious.”
Unfortunately BP’s efforts are futile. There is no damage control in a situation that’s already bad beyond belief. They would do more to burnish their image by appearing to be willing and accommodating with every effort that’s being made to cover and control the spill.
Article from Newsweek