NEW ORLEANS (July 14, 2010)—Roberta Reardon, National President of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA, AFL-CIO) – a national union of more than 70,000 professional performers, recording artists and broadcast journalists – responded today to the U.S. Coast Guard’s announcement on July 12 that the media will have “clear, unfettered access” to the 65-foot “safety zone” around protective booms that stretch along 560 miles of the Gulf coast:
“We applaud the Coast Guard’s reversal of its position on media access to the safety zones that would have penalized members of the media for simply doing their jobs. The earlier directive, with its onerous fines and possibility of jail time, did more to prevent accurate reporting than ensure safety, and was a threat to the First Amendment and to our democracy,” Reardon said in her statement.
On July 1, AFTRA announced an initiative to track reports by journalists who experience problems with access as they work to cover the story of the Gulf oil spill, www.aftra.com/access4media.htm. Since then, AFTRA has heard from a number of journalists that serious obstacles remain to providing unfettered and unfiltered coverage. In recent weeks, the union sent two delegations to attend press briefings at the BP Learning Center near Houma, Louisiana.
This week, AFTRA Strategic Campaign Coordinator Amy Masciola traveled to Grand Isle, La., and New Orleans to meet with newspersons to discuss their concerns about access. According to Masciola, “The journalists I’ve spoken with are deeply committed to covering this story. Every hurdle that’s placed in front of them, whether it’s intentionally put there by BP or our government, or is there because of the disorganization of the response effort, hinders their ability to gather facts, check them and accurately report the news to the public.”
AFTRA is encouraged by this week’s reversal of the restrictive Coast Guard directive and is calling upon Incident Commander Admiral Allen to guarantee journalists complete access to the people, places and documentation they need at every level—federal, state and local—to cover the story of the disaster in the Gulf. President Reardon noted, “We will continue to call attention to this issue and educate all of our members—including performers and recording artists—about the importance of a free press in any democratic society.”
AFTRA urges any journalist who has been denied access by a corporate or government entity to share their story via the union’s Access4Media website at www.aftra.com/access4media.htm, or by emailing their story to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, AFL-CIO, are the people who entertain and inform America. In 32 Locals across the country, AFTRA members work as actors, journalists, singers, dancers, announcers, hosts, comedians, disc jockeys, and other performers across the media industries including television, radio, cable, sound recordings, music videos, commercials, audio books, non-broadcast industrials, interactive games, the Internet and other digital media. The 70,000 professional performers, broadcasters, and recording artists of AFTRA are working together to protect and improve their jobs, lives, and communities in the 21st century. From new art forms to new technology, AFTRA members embrace change in their work and craft to enhance American culture and society.