In June, National Incident Commander Thad Allen ordered all personnel to provide the media with "uninhibited access" to the areas affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Now, even though that order had been regularly and often flagrantly disregarded, the guiding principle was for officials to provide journalists with unfettered access to spill areas.
That all changed last week, when the Coast Guard issued a new rule stating that anyone who encroaches on oil spill clean-up areas without permission faces a $40,000 fine and from one to five years in prison.
Now, according to Raw Story's Daniel Tencer, that means journalists who encroach on oil spill clean-up areas "without permission" in the course of their reporting are facing fines and or prison.
The move has enraged media and free speech advocates who see it as a blatant attack on First Amendment rights. Even CNN'ssays the new rules make it "very easy to hide incompetence or failure."
Guard's new order states that "vessels must not come within 20 meters [65 feet] of booming operations, boom, or oil spill response operations under penalty of law."
However, since the term "oil spill response operations" seems to cover numerous clean-up efforts underway on beaches, Cooper says the rule effectively bans reporters from "anywhere we need to be."
The rule classifies "willful violation" of the order as a Class D felony, which carries a penalty of "one to five years in prison under federal law." Cooper added that it seems like "doing the standard work of a reporter" could be considered a "willful violation."
Case in point, Huffington Post blogger Georgiane Nienaber has an excellent post in which she describes being charged with "willful" violations of the new rule, as well as divulging the little known fact that the Coast Guard media liaison happens to work for the same PR company that represents BP. Read more at HuffingtonPost.