Responding to numerous reports of interference with the right to photograph and record on public beaches, today the ACLU of Louisiana released a public letter to the sheriffs of all Louisiana coastal parishes, reminding them of their obligation to respect the First Amendment rights of media and the public.
Marjorie R. Esman, Executive Director of the ACLU of Louisiana, said: "Public beaches remain open to the public, whether or not BP officials want them to be. BP may not want the public to know the full effects of the oil spill, but that is precisely why public access is so important. BP doesn't have the right to censor what people learn about the problem that it caused and that it must solve."
Reports range from deputies serving private details for BP and blocking access to beaches at Grand Isle, to deputies advising reporters that they shouldn't film because BP doesn't want them to. Television and magazine reporters, independent photographers, as well as volunteers for various agencies working as observers, have been told to stop their activities even though they have done nothing wrong.
As the effects of the oil spill grow more serious each day, it it essential for everyone to know what is happening to our public waters, our beaches, marches, and coastline. Esman continued: "In the United States, we value free access to information and we rely on an uncensored media to provide a full picture of matters of public importance. Answers are provided through more information, not less. The public has the right to know what's happening on the Louisiana coast. BP cannot impose its own rule of law on the people of Louisiana or the Gulf Coast, just because it doesn't want us to know what is going on."
The letter is available here.