The importance of the media’s role in BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill truly cannot be overestimated. As images of leaking oil and dead wildlife have surfaced, public interest and outrage in the oil spill has increased, and so has political pressure on the Obama administration to punish BP. Consequently, BP has a vested interest in limiting media access to the oil spill. After all, the fewer horrifying images the public sees, the less angry they will be at BP about this oil spill. There have been numerous reports of BP limiting media access to the oil spill as well as allegations that the Coast Guard has enforced these limitations.
CBS has reported that one of its reporters was threatened with arrest at the site of the oil spill and prevented from fully photographing and covering the story. While some media outlets have been told that limited press coverage is due to a desire to protect wildlife from too much intrusion, in this case the Coast Guard supposedly told the CBS team that they were limiting press coverage because of BP’s rules.
The Huffington Post reports that charter pilots have been told not to fly below 3,000 feet over the spill when reporters are present. Much of the photography released in the past several days of the spill has involved aerial images of dying dolphins and globs of oil. Of course, at three thousand feets it’s difficult to see the full impact of the oil spill, so it seems the three thousand feet rule is an attempt at managing public image.
Mother Jones has reported that several workers have seemed afraid of the consequences of talking to reporters about the oil spill and what they are witnessing. BP has apparently told oil spill workers that the media will place propaganda over their words and threatened the workers with being fired for talking to reporters.
We’ve all seen the same ten or fifteen images of oiled animals at the site of the BP oil spill, and there may be a reason why the same images keep being repeated. BP may have told reporters that they cannot take photos of dead animals and may have actively prevented them from doing so. The New York Daily News reports that one of their reporters was told BP did not want images of dead animals circulating.