Oil + birds = bad PR

From the beginning of the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, we have heard complaints by journalists that BP was attempting to restrict access to areas contaminated by oil released from its damaged well. Reporters from The Associated Press wrote of being turned away, by U.S. Coast Guard and local police officers, from certain areas on the beaches and at sea where the oil was doing harm.

Who told local law enforcement to turn reporters away? It was BP.

The complaints got so bad that the AP appealed to the White House to intervene. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen released a memo directing BP and local authorities to allow the media access to affected areas—provided it was safe and secure—in order to accurately report on the spill.

But just a few days later, an ABC News reporter was given a hard time on a beach by a BP manager. And last week, the American Civil Liberties Union sent letters to nine law enforcement agencies in the affected areas warning them that hindering reporters from filming, photographing or reporting on the cleanup was in violation of the Constitution.

No doubt BP wants to keep the public from seeing the extent of the damage. It’s much easier to watch underwater video of oil bubbling up out of a pipe, without any way to tell how much damage is being done, than it is to look at befouled beaches, oiled birds and dead or dying marine life. But fears of a public-relations disaster are not even close to a good reason to interfere with working journalists. If BP—and other companies—are willing to take the profits from risky oil wells, they had better be prepared to take the bad press that results when they pollute the seas.